The global environmental challenges of apparel production

The apparel industry faces environmental challenges at every stage of a garment’s life, from selecting raw materials for fabric, producing garments, and transportation to our stores. Through our detailed evaluation of environmental impacts, we believe that we can make the most positive difference by focusing in the following four key areas: 

Chemicals - The World Bank estimates that up to 20% of industrial water pollution is caused by textile dyeing and treatment, where more than 8,000 chemicals are used across various production processes1. We collaborate with others in the industry to develop safer chemical formulations that help us meet our zero discharge goal. We also train suppliers to raise the level of chemical management performance across the supply chain, audit conformance to standards, monitor wastewater data, and research safer chemical formulations. 

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Water - We have determined that 84% of our water impacts lie in cotton agriculture. This is why we are focusing on buying more sustainable cotton, including organic cotton.

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Climate change – We know that 95% of our climate impacts lie in our supply chain.  This is why we support  more sustainable cotton growing practices and strive to reduce chemicals and energy use during manufacturing, transportation of clothing to our stores and how consumers use our clothing.

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Waste – In the developed world, over two-thirds of all clothing goes to landfill after use.  We are looking at new ways to create endless flows of fibres and clothing and to reduce waste in our operations.

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Our carbon footprint

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OUR 2020 GOAL
20%

reduction of our carbon footprint in stores, distribution centres, and offices.

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95%

of our climate change impacts are in our supply chain.

Measuring the carbon footprint of the C&A value chain

In 2016, we completed our first-ever carbon footprint of the C&A value chain—from cradle to grave. Leveraging the scientists at Aligned Incentives, we developed a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) model to evaluate our scope 1, 2 and 3 greenhouse gas emissions. The model follows the World Resources Institute/World Business Council for Sustainable Development GHG Protocol for corporate accounting and reporting and value chains. This hybrid LCA model combines input-output and process LCA methods, enabling us to focus on the key hot-spot areas within our value chain at a material, regional, and value chain level.

The study utilised granular data from over 370,000 shipments from our sourcing countries to our stores. We also evaluated over 6,700 unique non-product purchases to assess the value chain impacts of products and services that are related to our our business operations and administration. This combined with energy and fuel data for each of our stores, distribution centers and offices has provided us with a comprehensive data set used in the analysis.

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Our 2015 value chain GHG emissions breakdown according to the Greenhouse Gas Protocol

2015 breakdown of GHG emissions by fibre

Through this study, we estimated that our products contribute 5,085,360 metric tons of CO2e from cradle to grave. The breakdown of emissions tells us that we need to focus in the following areas:

  • Agriculture – Just 14% of our GHG emissions lie in agriculture given the high share of natural fibers like cotton within C&A's product range. In general, agricultural production is less efficient than synthetic production, resulting in higher emissions of CO2e. We plan to continue our focus on sourcing more sustainable cotton to reduce the impacts of agricultural inputs. Last year we saved 115,000 metric tons of CO2e through the sourcing of organic cotton alone.
  • Production – In the production of garments the impact of fabric production is more than double the impact of the garment manufacture, 26% compared to 13%. To address these impacts we will continue to focus on The Bangladesh Partnership for Cleaner Textiles (PaCT), and the China Better Mills Initiative (BMI) . By combining our own Sustainable Chemicals Management (SCM), with these industry initiatives we aim to reduce GHG emissions by reducing chemicals used in fabric production, laundries, and finishing. We also will leverage our combined approach to increase energy efficiency as well.
  • Retail operations – Our retail operations, excluding garments and transportation, count for around 13% of our total GHG emissions, of which 5% is energy consumption. To address this, all of our retail markets are developing roadmaps to address energy efficiency and renewable energy purchase in our new and existing stores, offices and distribution centers. In 2015, we increased our retail carbon efficiency by 9% and reduced our absolute carbon footprint by 1.4% compared to our baseline year 2012. We also purchased 30% four energy sources from renewable sources.
  • Consumer use - We also know from this study that heating water for washing clothes is the main contributor to GHG emissions in the consumer use of apparel. In 2016, we’ll look at ways to influence customers to lower washing temperatures and wash some garments, like jeans, less frequently. The use of clothing by our customers including disposal make up 25% of our total carbon footprint. However given the high variability in the use and care of apparel around the globe, this value is an estimate with much uncertainty.

2015 breakdown of GHG emissions in each part of our value chain

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Our water footprint

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OUR 2020 GOAL
Zero

discharge of hazardous chemicals.

 

 

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84%

of our water impacts are in cotton agriculture.

How we can reduce our impacts on fresh water 

Building on our previous water studies with the Water Footprint Network (WFN), in 2016 we developed our first global cradle-to-grave global water footprint for all C&A operations, as well as the clothing and apparel we sell in our stores. We worked with scientists at Aligned Incentives to create a hybrid Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) model that combines input-output and process LCA methods to estimate our global water consumption - and helped us to visualize both direct and indirect water impacts.  

By far cotton agriculture is the most impactful in terms of water consumption when compared with all of our other activities in our business.  We estimate that sourcing cotton accounts for 84% of our total water footprint, not including the impacts of chemicals on fresh water.

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Comparison of water consumption in cotton cultivation compared with all other activities

Through this study we estimate that 3.8 billion m3 of water is consumed in our value chain. The consumption breakdown shows we need to focus in the following areas:

  • Agriculture – 84% of water consumed is in cotton growing, measuring both direct and indirect water consumption. We will create a strategy that complements C&A Foundation’s strategy to support water efficiency and conservation in the important basins that support cotton production for C&A collections, such as India and China.
  • Production – Over 3% of water is consumed when fibre is processed into fabric. The major impacts in this stage of production are in the dyeing, laundering, and finishing of fabric. As China and Bangladesh are the major production regions for C&A, we will continue to focus on the Bangladesh Partnership for Cleaner Textiles (PaCT) and the China Better Mills Initiative (BMI) . By combining our own sustainable chemicals management with these industry initiatives, we aim to reduce water consumption and chemical impacts to surface waters.
  • Consumer Use – Over 4% of water used is in the consumer laundering of garments.  In 2016, we plan to investigate how C&A can support less water use in the consumer use of clothing.

Going forward, we aim to focus not only on these three impact areas, but also on the strong connection between our efforts and the UN Sustainable Development Goal of Clean Water and Sanitation. We will bring together the ongoing work of WFN with our Aligned Incentives water footprinting work to further understand our impacts on water consumption and the impacts of chemicals on surface water in cotton agriculture and garment manufacture areas.

2015 breakdown of water consumption in each part of our value chain

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Clean environment in our supply chain

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OUR GOAL
Zero

discharge of hazardous chemicals.

OUR PERFORMANCE
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Sustainable Chemicals Management audits at key fabric mills in 2015.

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Clean environment in our operations

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OUR GOAL
20%

reduction in our operational carbon footprint.

OUR PERFORMANCE
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-9%

reduction in carbon emissions per total usable area in our stores and DCs.

1 World Bank estimates, see Kant: Textile dyeing industry an environmental hazard, 2012.
2 C&A analysis from World Bank data, 2015.
3 Adapted from Oakdene Hollings, 2014.

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