As some show climate leadership, others exaggerate their efforts – whereby instead of reductions they only try to buy time with climate compensation. According to Sustainability specialist Joel Svedlund, that’s time we don’t have.
We see around us the marketing of “climate neutral” or “net zero” products and brands, where companies offset emissions through climate compensation such as tree planting, biochar production or contributions to wind power. However, in each of these cases, the actual extraction and processing of the raw materials and manufacturing of the product itself still emit massive amounts of greenhouse gases.
And no – it doesn’t really help if the product is made from “natural” materials – all current agriculture and forestry is heavily dependent on fossil fuels and many of the agroforestry practices used today such as clear-cutting, burning and monoculture planting, are directly impacting nature’s ability to capture carbon in soils and biomass.
The warnings from the scientific community are clear and increasingly urgent: If we are to comply with the Paris Agreement and stay within 1.5°C of global warming, we have only seven years to halve our actual emissions of greenhouse gases throughout our value chains, and another twenty years to eliminate them completely.
Yet at the UN Cop 27 Climate Conference in Egypt, the final documents once again failed to address the phase-out of fossil fuel. It is obvious that politicians are fumbling and missing the point – but industry needs to act anyway, we can’t wait for politics to push us forward through legislation.
In the textile industry, where many sports and outdoor brands are found, many brands have now set up a systematic climate work where they measure, report, and set goals to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. However, their journey has just begun – it is in the complex, global supply chains that most emissions occur when manufacturing materials and products. As much as 80 percent can come from fossil energy in manufacturing processes. It begins with the extraction of materials and goes all the way to assembly of the finished product, through consumption of electricity from coal, oil, and gas, but also in direct combustion of fossil fuels for process heating and steam generation.
Glimmers of hope
Sometimes it feels completely hopeless, like when you ask a Chinese supplier to switch to renewable energy and they quite correctly say that the Chinese government does not offer it in their electricity grid. Other times the transition is smoother, as with the installation of solar cells on Vietnamese factory roofs. The brands join in various collaborations, including those spearheaded by Outdoor Industry Association and European Outdoor Group, where they together can offer stronger influence and support for the suppliers.
I feel hopeful when I see the commitment and energy among the most engaged industry players, but still feel a tangible climate stress. There are so many companies in the sports industry that haven’t even started. The longer we wait, the more drastic measures we will have to take when we do get going.
Many of the individuals who pour their soul into the climate work lack the power to make the big decisions. We need CEOs, boards, business owners and of course also politicians who are seriously prepared to invest in a radical transformation of both industry and society in a short time. So let’s start a real climate debate. Kick it off today in your management team, store crew and family. Read up and understand. Talk climate with both suppliers and customers. Let’s deal with this beast once and for all, just because it is what we need to do.
And let’s not exaggerate our current achievements – it will be a long journey for all of us!
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