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How Fashion and Retail Can Use Technology to Track and Reduce Carbon

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How Fashion and Retail Can Use Technology to Track and Reduce Carbon

In what is arguably the most important issue of our century, climate change is quite rightly on the radar of the majority of retail businesses. While the world around us is reaching critical climate tipping points, we are left with a short timeline to reduce climate change impact.

It’s now estimated that retail is responsible for 25% of emissions worldwide — a huge percentage that requires attention and, more importantly, action. “The retail industry emits significantly more emissions than even road transport,” Ruth Zohrer, global chief client success officer at Wunderman Thompson Commerce, global eCommerce consultancy and Vaayu partner.

Carbon management is key to addressing this onslaught of released emissions because CO2 accounts for about 76% of the total greenhouse gas emissions that cause the greenhouse effect. To address just how much impact the industry has in future, retailers require specialist tools to manage their carbon and empower action — and technology innovation is central to this.

Now: The Well-Trodden Path

As it stands, the default approach is to offset — or compensate for — carbon emissions. But is offsetting alone enough? To aid decarbonization across the sector, the focus will need to shift from compensation to reduction. Offsetting alone simply cannot outweigh meaningful cuts to reduce the amount of carbon actually released

Future: Lower Emissions by Design

Instead, retailers can optimize operations, packaging and products, for example, to have less impact on the climate due to fewer emissions being released in the first instance. 

This positive outlook relies on practical strategies, actionable insights, and short- and long-term science-based target setting. Only by removing the mystery around emissions can carbon reduction be achieved, thus lowering retail’s climate change impact. 

The simplified version of this process might look something like:

  • Uncover where emissions are coming from
  • Understand what to prioritize
  • Set actionable carbon-cutting strategies across supply and value chains
  • Implement them within the business accordingly
  • Review the impact of the changes and repeat

By accurately and credibly measuring data points, such as shipment routes, the packaging used and product carbon footprints, retailers can understand precisely the proportion of emissions released within their current processes. From there, they can reduce and cut carbon emissions by diverting their operations onto less carbon-intensive routes.

“It’s really great that so many people have become aware [of their impact],” said Marisa Hordern, the British-based demi-fine jewelry brand Missoma. The brand has become more sustainable by significantly reducing its packaging, removing a plastic hinge from its boxes and using only materials that are both recycled and recyclable. The brand is also exploring recycled metals for its jewelry products and is auditing its factories on criteria like recycled water and solar energy.

Technology as the Catalyst

When it comes to actionable insights and strategies on how to cut carbon across the fashion and retail industry, carbon reduction via technology is now (and will always be) at the core of the industry’s conversation. 

Leaders must understand the impact of decisions while actually making them, largely relying on accurate data and more visibility. Real-time technology means retailers can make these critical changes during or, in some cases, even before making decisions, powering lower-carbon choices as they happen.

“We’re now able to access information with Vaayu — we’re able to provide [retail] clients with the opportunities to prioritize their sustainability initiatives, communicate those programmes much more accurately to consumers and to very accurately understand the impact of their actions on carbon reduction measures,” said Ruth.

Prioritization ultimately fuels decarbonization, and the quality data provided by technological innovation is the catalyst to help drive real, sustainable change for retail. 

To raise awareness of carbon reduction in retail, our CEO and Co-Founder Namrata Sandhu recently joined a panel of experts to explore how retailers and fashion brands can calculate emissions and ultimately decarbonize the industry. Alongside Nam were Vaayu partners Ruth Zohrer, Global Chief Client Success Officer at Wunderman Thompson Commerce, and Marisa Hordern, CEO of Missoma. For more insights on how to actively cut and reduce carbon in the retail sector, watch the Drapers webinar: Counting and Cutting Carbon with Missoma, Wunderman Thompson Commerce and Vaayu.

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