Clothing sector ‘looking good’ as it cuts carbon and water impacts on way to 2020 targets

In just two years retailers, brands and organisations from across the clothing supply chain have reduced water impacts by a significant 12.5% per tonne of clothing, against a 15% reduction target by 2020. They are also making encouraging progress to cut carbon impacts, having achieved a 3.5% reduction per tonne of clothing against a 15% reduction target.

This progress against targets, which was announced today at WRAP’s annual conference, has been achieved through the collective action of 82 signatories and supporters of the Sustainable Clothing Action Plan’s (SCAP) sector commitment – SCAP 2020, which is led by WRAP, the UK’s resource efficiency experts.

SCAP 2020 launched in 2013 when WRAP identified for the first time key action areas that could deliver the biggest reductions in the environmental impact of clothing, including: using lower impact fibres; extending the active life of clothes; and increasing re-use and recycling.

Two years on and the sector is really embracing the drive for more sustainable practices and making positive changes to the way it designs and manufactures products. For example, there’s a move towards more sustainable fibre choices where recycled material is being chosen over virgin options, particularly for polyester. Similarly for cotton, the industry is moving away from conventional cotton to lower impact cottons like those accredited by the Better Cotton Initiative. Its moves like these that are contributing to the overall water reduction.

The level of waste arising has remained stable so far and requires SCAP signatories to work closely with their supply chain. In addition, WRAP is working with industry to reduce waste to landfill by 15%, and progress against this target is being assessed and will be reported on next year.

Marcus Gover, Director at WRAP, said: “SCAP signatories have made great progress against the targets to date, particularly water. This is a positive indication of what can be achieved and we must capitalise on the momentum we’ve built. We will be working with the sector to ensure focus is maintained on priority areas. And whilst waste arisings haven’t been reduced, they have remained stable and we are encouraging concentrated efforts in this area.”

SCAP continues to attract support and just this week clothing brand George (at Asda) signed up to the commitment, meaning that the signatories now represent over 50% of the UK retail market by sales, volume and value.

In order to meet the SCAP 2020 targets, signatories must focus on: increasing the use of lower impact fibres; increasing product durability; helping consumers care for clothing and reducing waste to landfill (through WRAP’s consumer campaign Love Your Clothes) and, working with supply chains to reduce waste arisings.

To help signatories and supporters take action WRAP provides a range of guidance and tools for each area. Given the importance of embedding durability WRAP is about to publish industry guidance entitled ‘Sustainable Clothing Guide’. This is a practical how-to guide aimed at designers, manufacturers and retailers that will help them enhance clothing durability and performance. It will include best practice case studies and practical tools and will be available for download soon.

However, to improve sustainability across the clothing lifecycle its’ not just about working with industry, but consumers too. The consumer has a key role to play, particularly when it comes to keeping clothes in use for longer and in reuse and recycling. SCAP signatories are being encouraged to support the consumer through WRAP’s Love Your Clothes campaign, which is designed to make the public think about how they buy, use and pass on their clothing. This year the John Lewis Partnership included messaging from Love Your Clothes in its Learning Guide, which is used to assist the Selling Partners to share durability messages with customers. And Clothes Aid has added ‘proud to support Love Your Clothes’ on their collections bags, helping to spread the message right across the UK.

Defra’s Resources Minister, Rory Stewart, said: “Clothing brands and stores can make a valuable contribution towards a sustainable environment – by extending the life of clothes, making better use of resources and encouraging reuse and recycling.”

“These early results demonstrate good progress and while there is still more to do I’m pleased so many companies have signed up and are taking on this challenge.“

Scotland’s Environment Secretary, Richard Lochhead, said: “There is an estimated £2.5 billion worth of unworn clothing in Scotland’s wardrobes – that’s a lot of money to have sitting in the back of a cupboard gathering dust, so it’s great to see an emphasis on re-use and garment care. This fits in well with Scotland’s circular economy ambitions of keeping resources in as high-value use as possible for as long as possible, and as an active supporter of SCAP, the Scottish Government welcomes this voluntary contribution to achieving Scotland’s climate change and resource use targets.”

Welsh Government Natural Resources Minister, Carl Sargeant, said: “The Welsh Government is committed to preventing waste going to landfill, and this forms part of our Environment Bill proposals. There is much work to be done, but I’m encouraged to see WRAP working with the clothing industry to help them hit their targets.”

The UK’s success in this area is paving the way for the new European Clothing Action Plan (ECAP), which was announced last month. Working with key partners, WRAP will be leading ECAP, an EU Life funded pilot project, aimed at reducing the carbon, water and waste footprints of clothing in the EU.