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How eco-friendly is your favourite fashion brand?

Why carbon offsetting matters

By Valentina Zarew 

Have you ever stopped to think about the raw materials and resources used by the fashion industry to make your clothes? The carbon footprint created via sourcing raw materials, the factories, the packaging and of course all those online deliveries stacks up mind bogglingly fast.

In fact, according to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and The Ellen Macarthur Foundation, the fashion industry is responsible for 10 per cent of annual carbon emissions, and believe it or not, that’s actually more than aviation (12 per cent). 

Energy, water, waste, packaging and fibres are some of the components that add to the overall impact, and also those that organisations need to address along with the ‘fast fashion’ business model itself. 

Given the complexity of the fashion supply chain, offsetting the emissions created by the fashion industry is an enormous commitment, however, one that is critically necessary in the face of a climate emergency.

What is carbon offsetting? 

In simplified terms, carbon dioxide (CO2) is a greenhouse gas and is naturally found in the atmosphere, however, most of the gases can now be attributed to human activity. When in balance, CO2 causes no harm, however due to the increase of these greenhouse gases, heat has been trapped in the atmosphere, leading to climate change. A carbon offset is, essentially a reduction in emissions of carbon dioxide (or other greenhouse gases) that’s made to compensate for emissions made elsewhere. In the fashion industry (or any business), once brands know what their total CO2 emissions are from doing business (their carbon footprint), they can offset these through purchasing carbon credits from verified projects such as solar or wind farms or forest regeneration projects.

How do brands measure their carbon footprint? 

When measuring carbon footprint, organisations need to define their ‘boundary’ which outlines the sources of omissions that need to be accounted for. 

These fall into three categories including; direct operations (like company cars, heating or air-conditioning), their energy consumption (for offices or retail stores), and emissions, as a result of third parties (think factories, fields, distribution or raw materials). 

Australian Menswear label, MJ Bale, has taken an all-in approach declaring a goal of  being certified carbon neutral by the end of 2021 as part of the MJ Bale Infinity carbon neutrality project. 

Then there are organisations such as Californian swimwear label Abysse that don’t have the resources to go through such a rigorous auditing process it’s expensive and takes time) so they – like many others – have taken a step-by-step approach. .  

Founded on the principles of sustainability, founder Hanalei Reponty-Gudauskas, is committed to ensuring that they apply a conscious lens to business operations. Offering swimsuits and activewear made from Global Recycled Standard certified recycled nylon – ECONYL® – her clothing generates 50 per cent less carbon emissions than others created using conventional nylon.

“We decided to take on carbon offsetting as a means to streamline our footprint on this planet,’’ says Hanalei.

All freight at Abysse is measured and offset through projects that contribute to the local environment in which they operate. 

“By neutralising our emissions and investing in projects such as reforestation, solar energy and wind farms, we are able to ‘offset’ (parts of) our carbon footprint”

On a different path, Byron Bay based fashion label, Spell, has aligned itself with the Aboriginal Carbon Foundation – a NFP that supports carbon farming projects, led by Indigenous rangers. 

“This end-to-end Indigenous run organisation follows a reputable, independent and transparent verification process that provides core benefits to their wider community, including social, cultural, environmental, economic, health and political self-determination benefits. It’s this holistic approach to carbon emission reduction, the consideration of both the environmental and social benefits that was so impressive to us,” explains Spell co-founder Elizabeth Abegg.

What to look for when choosing a brand based on its carbon offsetting:

1.  Sustainability report

Look at the website of the fashion label you are shopping with and try to identify their sustainability report. Look for their emissions strategy or reporting. 

2. Online or offline references to offsetting 

This may be recognising  the amount of carbon generated by one garment or freight, then explaining how they offset it, (for example,planting trees). 

3. If you can’t find anything – ask! 

Social media has opened up two-way communications, so if climate and carbon is important to you ask your favourite brands. 


Valentina is a sustainability expert, with among other accreditations a certificate of sustainability from the University of Bath. She is focussed on working with the brands of the future to help shape their strategy, sustainability framework, stories and partnerships. You can connect with her at [email protected], or follow her on Instagram.  @valya___z

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