Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Making the connection between fashion and Climate Change at COP21

Some interesting results are coming out of the International Climate Change Conference (COP21) in Paris, not least from some big names in fast fashion.

Let's start with a blunt statement of fact. Climate change is real, and it's causing catastrophic shifts in the global landscape. Flooding in Chennai has displaced thousands of people. The North of England is still struggling with the after-effects of Storm Desmond, which has caused the highest recorded amount of rainfall in some areas in a century, and forced many hundreds of people out of their homes. It's almost absurdly clear that something has to be done.

Which is what makes the joint statement from big-name multinational brands like Adidas, H&M and Gap quite so striking. They're calling for a robust and immediate deal on climate change and its effects. The reason? Simple common and business sense. The declaration read:

“From the farmers in cotton fields to the workers in garment factories, we know that people in some of the least climate-resilient regions are being negatively impacted by a warming world. Drought, changing temperatures, and extreme weather will make the production of apparel more difficult and costly.”
There's the point. The businesses behind that statement are the largest producers of cotton in the world. Now, I know it's a thirsty crop, but even cotton doesn't do well underwater. The joint statement shows the realisation that climate change presents a clear and present danger to the resources and people without which they cannot survive. Let's be clear: the statement issued at COP21 has little to do with altruism. It's about survival.

Even more interestingly, the alliance pledged to do their part in helping to bring a real solution to the table. Eileen Fisher, eponymous head of the giant fashion brand, said:

“We have to think differently about business as a bridge to change. We have the powerful opportunity to come together across our industry to co-create how we measure success, not only in dollars but in the cost to humanity and the environment. This includes committing to practices and policies that directly address the apparel sector’s impact on climate change.”
Now, this is a big deal. When some of the biggest names in business come together with government to announce change, then two things become clear. Firstly, that something might actually happen this time. Secondly, that these hard-nosed corporate heads have run the numbers on climate change... and they're terrified about what they can see coming.

Time is running out, but announcements on this scale are unprecedented. This is a cross-brand initiative that includes most of the planet's best known apparel names, standing together to demand a real solution to the major issue of modern times. Climate change is an underlying cause of much of the unrest we see today, as arable land and potable water become resources worth fighting over. We'll have to wait and see what form the new agreements and plans take. But for once, we can see political and business needs meeting in the defence of a greater good.

And that has to mean something. Doesn't it?

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