France’s parliament approved on Tuesday an expansive climate bill that will introduce mandatory “carbon labels” for goods and services, including clothing and textiles, as part of an effort to inform consumers about the environmental impact of their purchasing decisions.
The legislation came to a vote after extreme floods ripped through parts of Europe, submerging entire towns, killing nearly 200 people and intensifying concerns about the effects of global warming.
But while the wide-ranging series of carrots and sticks on housing, construction and transportation are meant to help the country slash its greenhouse-gas emissions by 40 percent by 2030, environmental activists say the measures are too modest. The European Union, for instance, has proposed a more ambitious 55 percent cut in its “Green New Deal,” though this has yet to be approved by member nations.
France has dabbled in environmental scoring for clothing before. In 2018, the French Agency for Environment and Energy Management (ADEME) rolled out a labeling system that grades garments from A to E, with A being the most sustainable and E the least. According to a timeline from the Ministry of Ecological Transition, a similar scheme is poised to become mandatory by 2023.
Home to luxury nameplates like Chanel, Hermès and Louis Vuitton, France has long been a trailblazer when it comes to fashion legislation.
Last year, France banned brands from destroying leftover stock under a groundbreaking “anti-waste” law that the French government claimed was the world’s first. Instead, clothing and shoes must be redistributed, reused or recycled. Already, the country has a decade-old extended producer responsibility law, under which businesses are required to provide or manage the recycling of their clothing, textiles and footwear products at the end of their lives. The ADEME estimates that 624,000 metric tons of textiles—equivalent to 2.6 billion pieces of clothing, household linens and shoes—are placed on the market in France every year.
“Fashion must impose its standards,” Brune Poirson, then-secretary of state to the minister for the ecological and inclusive transition, tweeted last year in support of both the labeling scheme and the European Green New Deal, which aims to make Europe climate neutral by 2050.
Faced with the existential crisis of climate change on both their businesses and the planet, a handful of brands have begun applying carbon “nutritional” labels to their products, including France’s own Veja, a shoemaker beloved of stylish young royals.
Veja has so far tallied the carbon burdens of some of its popular styles, ranging from 5.63 kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalent for the Nova High Canvas to 21.5 kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalent for the Esplar Leather. By the end of the year, the brand plans to release numbers for all its models and potentially sizes, Sébastien Kopp, the company’s co-founder and creative director, previously told Sourcing Journal.
The idea behind the carbon-tagging concept, its proponents say, is to help customers visualize the environmental costs of what they buy while holding themselves accountable for the environmental claims they make. But crunching those numbers can be a fraught process, since most brands have limited visibility into their supply chain and they tend to zero in on Scopes 1 and 2 emissions within their direct control, which are only part of the picture.
But supplying a “key, universal identifier” like a carbon number is critical for “drowning out the noise” and evaluating sustainability, Joey Zwillinger, co-founder and co-CEO of Allbirds, said in April, when the cult-favorite sneaker label rolled out an open-source version of its proprietary Carbon Footprint calculator.
“For too long, many brands have focused on marketing sustainability rather than actually implementing holistic, high-impact solutions—and to an extent, it’s worked,” he added. “If we want to continue pushing fashion toward a more sustainable future, we need brands to take responsibility for what they share with consumers.”
Source: Sourcing Journal