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Fashion Companies Reach Landmark Sustainability Accord Ahead of G7 Summit

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French President Emmanuel Macron, center, poses with G7-Summit civil society representatives, including Kering chairman and CEO François-Henri Pinault, right, holding the G7 Fashion Pact. Charles Platiau/AFP/Getty Images

This afternoon at the Élysée Palace, French President Emmanuel Macron and Kering chairman and chief executive François-Henri Pinault unveiled a new plan to reduce the environmental impact of the global fashion industry.

Signed by 32 companies—including some of the biggest names in luxury, activewear, fast fashion, and retailing—the G7 Fashion Pact marks the first serious broad-based push by a coalition of private-sector companies to help reduce global warming, replenish the planet's biodiversity, and curtail the dumping of plastics in the world's oceans.

At its current growth rate, textile and apparel production emissions will rise more than 60% by 2030, according to UN Climate Change.

The fashion pact signatories have set a goal to enlist at least 20% of the global fashion industry in their effort, as measured by volume of production. "We have just 11 years left to halt irreversible climate change," reads the G7 Fashion Pact, which outlines three key areas where the sector can reduce emissions and waste.

The non-binding accord will be presented this weekend to leaders from the Group of Seven nations—the U.S., Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and the U.K.—convening in Biarritz, France, for their annual summit to discuss global issues and co-ordinated action in areas including the environment and international trade. G7 nations represent almost half the world's gross domestic product and roughly a third of its purchasing power.

Much of the G7 Fashion Pact is centered on science-based targets: Emission- reduction goals in line with the level of decarbonization required to keep global temperature increase below 2°C, compared to pre-industrial temperatures. More than 231 fashion companies have already adopted science-based targets of their own, but under the G7 Fashion Pact, signatories pledge to commit to increasing transparency and accountability across their supply chains.

Goals outlined include switching to 100% renewable energy throughout their operations, "with the ambition to incentivize implementation of renewables in all high impact manufacturing processes along the entire supply chain by 2030;" switching to regenerative and "wildlife-friendly" approaches to agriculture, mining, and forestry; and "eliminating the use of single-use plastics (in both business-to-business and business-to-consumer packaging) by 2030." Additionally, the pact contains language to promote circularity, a concept promoted by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation that encourages using recycled textiles.

Fashion industry broadly represented

Although Kering—the parent company of Gucci, Saint Laurent, among other high-fashion brands—was tapped by Macron in May to recruit signatory companies, the brands on board go beyond luxury apparel to include activewear brands like Adidas, Puma, and Nike, and fast fashion such as H&M Group, Gap Inc., and Inditex, the parent company of Zara. Department stores such as Nordstrom, Selfridges, and Galeries Lafayette are also represented.

"We know that one company cannot solve the environmental challenges facing our planet alone and we believe in the power of collaboration to drive real change," said Burberry CEO Marco Gobbetti in a statement.

"The objectives of the Fashion Pact strongly align with our own work in this area over the past decade, and we are looking forward to working with the other signatories to help transform our industry, support our communities and protect the environment," Gobbetti said.

Previously, Burberry signed two science-based targets of its own, consistent with keeping the global temperature rise to 1.5° Celsius, which aim to reduce carbon emissions across its retail stores, offices, and supply chain. Currently, Burberry sources 68% of its cotton through the Better Cotton Initiative, whose goal is to globally promote sustainable cotton farming practices.

Some of the signatory companies are also using the occasion to launch their own in-house sustainability projects. Nordstrom, for example, is initiating a Sustainable Style category on its website, which will stock 2,000 items from 90 brands including Patagonia, Reformation, Toms, and Veja.

In the United States, the word "sustainable" doesn't have a set definition per the Federal Trade Commission's most recent guidelines (2012, so it's up to private brands to define the word for themselves. Nordstrom is using the sustainability category to highlight brands that use "sustainably-sourced materials," manufacture products in factories that "meet higher social or environmental standards," or "give back."

Fashion's "essential role"

"Private companies, working alongside nation states, have an essential role to play in protecting the planet," the G7 Fashion Pact statement, released by Kering, reads.

But while global fashion companies and retailers have reached an accord to considerably reduce their environmental footprints, such harmony isn't expected to prevail during the G7 summit.

For the first time since the G7 summit's inception in 1975, there won't be a joint agreement signed by participating nation leaders at the end of the summit. French president Emmanuel Macron said it would be "pointless" to issue the usual G7 communiqué, citing "a very deep crisis of democracy" relating to President Donald Trump's unwillingness to comply with the internationally endorsed Paris climate accord to tackle global warming. Last year, Trump refused to sign the communiqué.

"I know the points of disagreement with the U.S. If we draft an agreement about the Paris [climate] accord, President Trump won’t agree. It’s pointless,” he said.

Macron also announced plans to open the summit with a discussion on the fires ravaging the Amazon rainforest, which German chancellor Angela Merkel seconded.

Meanwhile, here's a list of the fashion brands, designers, manufacturers, distributors and retailers as founding signatories of the G7 Fashion Pact: Adidas, Bestseller, Burberry, Capri Holdings Limited, Carrefour, Chanel, Ermenegildo Zegna, Everybody & Everyone, Fashion3, Fung Group, Galerias Lafayette, Gap Inc., Giorgio Armani, H&M Group, Hermes, Inditex, Karl Lagerfeld, Kering, La Redoute, Matchesfashion.com, Moncler, Nike, Nordstrom, Prada Group, Puma, PVH Corp., Ralph Lauren, Ruyi, Salvatore Ferragamo, Selfridges Group, Stella McCartney, and Tapestry.

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