Air pollution, overflowing landfills, and greenhouse gasses are all by-products of environmental damage created by manufacturing products and delivering those products into the hands of consumers.
What — if anything — does watching a Paris runway show on your iPhone or buying a new dress online have to do with the global climate crisis?
You may not realize it, but there is a direct link between the fashion industry and the environment. The truth is that every step of the retail value chain can be potentially wasteful, from raw material extraction and processing, to shipping and eventual disposal of unwanted product in landfills or incinerators. At its worst, retail manufacturing and logistics can be toxic or contribute directly to greenhouse gas emissions that drive climate change.
Would it surprise you to learn that an estimated 8% of global climate impacts are attributed to the apparel and footwear industries alone?
Introducing Sustainable Retail
Sustainable retail includes everything from recycled packaging to sustainable store design, to garments made from recycled materials. It is the industry’s response to 63% of Americans who say they want the companies they do business with to take the lead on driving social and environmental change in the absence of U.S. government regulation.
Conventional apparel manufacturing and delivery is an inherently dirty business. Consider that much of its global production infrastructure still relies on hard coal and natural gas to generate electricity and heat. Or that health and beauty products tied closely to fashion are often sold in single-use packaging that contributes to the millions of tons of plastic in our oceans, or that the ease and popularity of e-commerce results in more package deliveries, which directly correlates to rising greenhouse gas emissions from commercial vehicles.
Last-mile Delivery Contributes to Climate Change
In April 2019, more than 6,000 Amazon employees published an open letter on Medium addressed to Jeff Bezos and the Amazon board of directors, calling for the company to rethink its approach to climate change. Just last year, in 2018, Amazon accounted for fully 40% of U.S. online sales; it takes a lot of vehicles to deliver all those smiley Amazon boxes.
E-commerce shipping is one of the main reasons that last-mile delivery from regional distribution centers to someone’s doorstep has become so difficult in densely populated cities. According to McKinsey & Company, “commercial vehicles contribute disproportionately to urban pollution and congestion...they are more apt to idle, make stops and starts, and block traffic. In general, they generate higher nitrogen-oxide and other emissions.” That’s why Amazon’s workforce is urging corporate leaders to do more, faster, to cut emissions and prioritize climate impacts when making business decisions.
The fact is that air pollution caused by traffic — including delivery traffic — accounts for more than five million premature deaths each year. And while minority communities in urban areas are disproportionately inhaling that pollution, bucolic rural communities are also feeling the impact as logistic fulfillment centers move closer to customers to meet the demand for same-day or overnight deliveries.
Committed to Reducing Climate Impact
The good news is that there are realistic ways for the fashion and retail industries to clean up their acts by reducing the consumption of fossil fuels and minimizing waste.
- Lush Naked Shops figured out that when customers use an app to find product information about “naked” solid soaps and shampoos formulated with little to no water, they don’t need plastic packaging.
- Rent the Runway innovated the “circular economy” that puts fashion items back into circulation before the end of their useful life and keeps discarded items out of landfills.
- Ikea recently opened a sustainable solar-powered store in London that uses rainwater to help reduce water consumption by 50%.
- Luxury retailers and designer labels are selling “eco-friendly, biodegradable reusable bamboo travel mugs” and other refillable items to keep plastics out of our environment.
Our own client, Herbalife Nutrition, reduced its last-mile carbon footprint in congested cities by consolidating package deliveries at convenient local pick-up centers. Herbalife distributors in New York, Los Angeles, San Juan, and other major cities get same-day access to popular products without paying shipping costs, and Herbalife is doing its part to alleviate urban pollution.
If your company is looking for creative ways to be kinder to our environment, ask me how we can help you improve last-mile delivery with a turn-key end-to-end fulfillment center, or visit us at www.curagroup.com.