How Our 0% Net Carbon Commitment Combats Climate Change
Creating nearly 10% of the world’s carbon footprint today and on track to make up 26% by 2050, the fashion industry is one of the worst contributors to climate change, emitting more emissions than the international aviation and shipping industries combined (Source: Ellen Macarthur Foundation). Not only is fashion one of the top 5 most polluting industries due to dirty, unregulated manufacturing, but 85% of the clothes we wear end up in landfills even though 95% could be reused or recycled (Source: Council for Textile Recycling, 2021).
We can all do better. We have to, as is often said, “there is no Planet B.”
We recognize that everything we make has an impact on the planet, and we believe the fashion industry can regenerate rather than deplete the environment if we measure our impact and invest in proven methods to counteract it. In this post, we are going to dig in on our commitment to reducing and offsetting 100% of our carbon emissions as a brand and why we believe all brands should aim to become 0% net carbon neutral.
Before we dive in on carbon neutrality, we have to be clear that there is far more to environmental responsibility than offsetting carbon emissions alone...
Why We Believe in a “Circular Fashion” Approach to Environmental Responsibility
“Sustainability” and “Eco-Friendly” to us mean far more than offsetting carbon emissions or one-off donations or products that use small fractions of responsibly sourced materials, etc. To us, environmental “sustainability” means taking EVERYTHING into consideration. This is why, in contrast to fast fashion’s “take, make, dispose” model, we believe in a “circular fashion” approach that takes environmental impact into account at all stages ranging from the initial design products, to the sourcing of materials, to manufacturing, to logistics to the final customer, to the end lifecycle of products post consumer use, and all steps in between.
Taking a circular fashion approach is a journey that we are very far from perfect on, but today, for us, starts as early as material selection at the design phase, which is why we’ve introduced upcycled and recycled materials into our design process and will continue to do so in years to come as our manufacturing capabilities expand. It’s also why we’ve transformed our supply chain in the last few years to allow for 95% of our leather uppers to originate from Leather Working Group Certified tanneries, which meet the highest standard of environmental responsibility in our industry. In a dirty industry where renewable energy is largely non-existent, it’s why solar panels span the roof of our factory in Peru, further reducing our carbon footprint. It’s why we have a Shoe Reclamation Program to incentivize customers to divert shoes from landfills at the end of their usage in a manner that upcycles and recycles relevant components while enhancing employment in developing countries.
And lastly, for example, it’s why our goal is to maintain 0% net carbon emissions through measuring, reducing, and offsetting 100% of our carbon emissions from the start of our supply chain all the way to our customers’ doorsteps.
Our Environmental Conservation Work Since 2018
For over 3 years now, we have offset the carbon emissions of everything we have produced by partnering with Ecosphere+ to invest in forest conservation in the Cordillera Azul of the Peruvian Amazon. Our program focuses on keeping the threatened forests of the Amazon alive and protected while creating sustainable livelihood opportunities for its indigenous communities. Since deforestation is responsible for approximately 10% of all global greenhouse gas emissions, protecting mature trees that naturally capture CO2 is one of the greatest tools for combating climate change. Protecting mature trees is a more effective way of capturing carbon and fighting greenhouse gas emissions in the medium-term rather than planting new trees. In fact, one larger, older tree could sequester the same amount of carbon in a single year as might be contained in the entire life of a younger tree. This is why we ultimately chose this partnership and direction in our approach to offsetting emissions. Check out this one minute video to learn more and see the Cordillera Azul firsthand:
Why We Partner with Climate Neutral to 3rd Party Verify Our Efforts
While for several years we have done the vast majority of heavy lifting in calculating and verifying the emissions of our own supply chain, we recognized the need for third party support and validation on two major fronts. First, the science behind measuring carbon emissions is complex. Calculating emissions is dependent on the work of climate experts, and accuracy is essential. Secondly, in an industry that’s become overrun with greenwashing, third party verification provides much needed credibility. In fact, 40% of 500 fashion brands recently surveyed by the Competition and Markets Authority claimed to be “eco-friendly,” but had no data to substantiate their claims. We’re passionate about providing public-facing data and 3rd party verification for all of our social and environmental practices because we believe that level of transparency is critical to the sustainability movement and garnering ongoing trust between brands and consumers.
Climate Neutral’s Methodology
Before we dive into our emissions, let’s review Climate Neutral’s methodology at a very high level. To keep it simple, Climate Neutral ensures that we are accurately measuring and offsetting our entire carbon footprint by requiring us to measure our emissions on their software tool, the Brand Emissions Estimator (BEE), a comprehensive platform built in partnership with climate experts from well respected organizations–Massachusetts Institute of Technology and CIRAIG, among others, operating in the carbon emissions accounting and lifecycle analysis fields. To certify, we share financial information and specific emissions data (i.e. total ton miles shipped, kilowatts of energy consumed, amount of leather hides purchased, etc.) into the BEE to arrive at an accurate estimate of our total carbon emissions. An analyst from Climate Neutral works directly with our team to ensure there are no discrepancies in the data, and then supports us with creating and implementing reduction plans to actually reduce our carbon footprint moving forward.
Nisolo’s Climate Neutral Certified Carbon Emissions Overview
As a brand, we are measuring, reducing, and offsetting 100% of our carbon emissions, which most recently totaled and were confirmed by Climate Neutral to be 2,759 tons of CO2 in 2020. Here are our carbon emissions broken down into three categories: Nisolo Headquarters (which is primarily our Nashville office), our Supply Chain, and Nisolo Company-Wide, which is inclusive of everything.
While there are very few brands who share (or even track) their carbon emissions, we were able to gather a few stats that are publicly available from other similar brands to share context on how our total company output compares to other brands. Here are a few examples:
Nisolo – 2,759 tCO2e
Sunski – 917 tCO2e
Ministry of Supply – 2,534 tCO2e
Miir – 9,057 tCO2e
Peak Design – 34,009 tCO2e
Veja – 36,867 tCO2e
Our Positive Impact in the Peruvian Amazon
As a reminder, since deforestation is responsible for approximately 10% of all global greenhouse gas emissions, protecting mature trees that naturally capture CO2 is one of the greatest tools for combating climate change. We’re grateful to have the opportunity to focus our offsetting efforts within the same country where much of our manufacturing occurs. Through the support of our customers and in partnership with Climate Neutral and Ecosphere+, to date we have been able to protect:
594,090 trees covering an area of 111,406,472 square feet (that’s the same size as 869 soccer fields) from deforestation in the Amazon Basin and offset 5,750 metric tons of CO2.
Map of Cordillera Azul National Park
Source: Campo, Hilary and Wali, Alaka (2007)
In addition to our conservation work supporting the jobs of 665 people (many of whom are from indigenous communities in Peru, and 30% of whom are held by women), our offsetting efforts to date are equivalent to:
Progress & Learnings from Measuring Our Emissions
We’ve made some exciting progress on reducing our carbon footprint since our initial work began in early 2018 and since becoming Climate Neutral Certified in 2020. Thankfully, when we compare our data, we see a reduction in carbon emissions across the board year over year from 2019 to 2020 except in a few places where a change in Climate Neutral’s methodology technically skewed the data.
A few highlight areas that helped contribute to reducing our carbon footprint in 2020 included:
- Cutting our shipping emissions in half by consolidating shipments and encouraging customers to select slower options for shipping.
- Shipping more product from our factories to our distribution center by sea and truck rather than air freight.
- And, whereas most of the fashion industry’s supply chain is still dependent on dirty energy sources derived from fossil fuels, we’ve invested in and installed solar panels on the roof of our factory in Peru, making us the only shoe manufacturer in the country (and one of a handful in the world) using renewable energy. We’re thrilled to be championing clean energy and environmental progress in this manner!
As we move forward, one of many places we are looking into improving relating to our carbon emissions tracking methodology is becoming more and more exact, down to a per unit basis of measurement. This way, we can do things like track emissions at a product specific level to better strategize improvements and compare year over year changes in a manner that avoids becoming skewed based on significant growth or reduction in our volume of manufacturing and selling as a business.
We’d love your feedback as well, so please email us at email@example.com with your suggestions and ideas.
A Call to Action
Given the dire reality of how the fashion industry is negatively impacting climate change, our hope is that all brands will commit to measuring, reducing, and offsetting 100% of their carbon emissions. And, our desire is for all brands to commit to 3rd party verification of these efforts through partners such as Climate Neutral. As a customer, we encourage you to seek out the carbon footprint of the brands you support and ask them straight up what they’re doing to address their environmental impact. Together, we can make the fashion industry a vehicle for environmental progress and inspire other industries to follow suit.