WHAT SOLUTIONS DOES THE FASHION SUPPLY CHAIN HAVE TO BE
POWERED BY 100% FOSSIL FREE ENERGY?
THE ROLE OF ELECTRICITY GENERATION IN MEETING YOUR BRAND’S SUSTAINABILITY GOALS
Brands are setting science-based targets which often include the absolute reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, similarly to what countries are doing at each environmental conference (see our full article on COP26 and fashion here), where they commit to a certain amount of carbon reduction by a specific date.
It is estimated that energy production represents about three-quarters of total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions globally, followed by agriculture and transport, which is the reason why it is SO important to find energy sources that have the lowest emissions, and move away from fossil fuels. To put things in perspective, 1kWh of electricity made with coal will emit 1000 times more carbon than the same kWh made with wind or solar power…
THE ISSUE WITH FOSSIL FUELS
Unfortunately, though, the world still majorly relies on fossil fuels, and as much as we hate the effect that they are having on the climate today, they have enabled new standards of living, modes of transport, production and economic development. You would not be able to have most of your clothes in your closet if it wasn’t for fossil fuels.
But, now that we need to move away from them, what solutions really are there? And are they viable in the short term?
The International Energy Agency (IEA) has published a very comprehensive report where they detail what path the world should take to achieve net zero by 2030, and keep global warming under 1.5C. It is definitely not an easy task, but it is also not impossible. An impressive quote from IEA’s report is that if we were to only use solar power, we would need to install the equivalent of the world’s current largest solar park… every day!
The report is also very clear that we absolutely need to stop investing in any fossil fuel energy plants.
So, in our transition towards renewable energy, what can a factory do to ensure that it is still able to operate in a sustainable way? Are energy projects too big for a factory to invest in independently?
DEEP-DIVE INTO DIFFERENT SOLUTIONS
↳ Solar panels covering a sewing facility can provide most of the factory’s energy requirements, this of course depends on the location, the time of year, the exact size of the factory etc. However, for mills and denim laundries that use huge amounts of heat and large machinery, solar roofs are simply not enough. This doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t do it! Any reduction makes a difference, and solar will also reduce the cost of electricity.
↳ Wind is the primary non-hydro renewable technology, generating almost as much as all the others combined. However, it still represents a limited amount of global electricity.
Windmills can produce enough electricity to power intense operations in the fashion supply chain, and in the long term, keeps the energy cost per kWh extremely low. However, the initial investment is $2.6 – $4 million per average-sized onshore commercial wind turbine and the space requirements, about 1.5 acres per turbine, do not make it viable for a manufacturer to invest in it independently, especially in the current model of production where brands do not have long term commitments, and factories have to live in a state of uncertainty.
However, windmills would be a great solution for industrial parks! Most factories are in specific areas designated for industry (aka Industrial Parks), which are independent entities that manage the electricity, water, and waste systems for all companies in the area.
↳ The conversation around hydro is similar: it is not an investment that a factory can make independently, and the location requirements make it too limiting for it to be a solution for independent manufacturers.
↳ There are energy providers that offer contracts that ensure that 100% of the electricity is generated using renewables, however, even if your contract ensures that, and the money you spend goes to fund such projects, the energy mix of the country will remain the same, regardless of the fact that a specific company is assigned a portion of renewables.
A DELICATE TOPIC: NUCLEAR POWER
There are talks of mini Nuclear reactors that are being designed at MIT that focuses on using both energy and heat. These would be the size of a large car, and be able to power 8,000 homes or a cluster of skyscrapers. We would also like to add an industrial park to this list, where factories can use heat to heat up water, and electricity to power machinery. How far is this from being realistic? MRIs in hospitals are mini reactors, and this idea has already been implemented in submarines.
Nuclear power, however, is a delicate topic. It currently produces around 10% of global energy but has many controversies because of the radioactive waste that it generates, and the potential catastrophes that can happen in case of accidents. Countries have very different views on Nuclear, some, like Italy, shifting away from it because of safety concerns, others, such as France, keeping Nuclear at the core of their energy strategy.
In the past 50 years, the use of nuclear power reduced CO2 emissions by over 60 gigatons – which to put into perspective is nearly two years’ worth of global energy-related emissions! In an ideal world we would generate electricity without any dangerous waste, but in the next transitioning years, nuclear power might be essential to meet the Paris agreement and avoid a climate catastrophe, while keeping energy supply stable.
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
As we cover in Supply Chain 101, consumers can try to look for certified garments, and read what a brand is doing to invest in their supply chain, in particular what their efforts are towards transitioning to renewable energy. On the other hand, brands have the means to partner with manufacturers to reduce the impact of the production of what they sell and we strongly believe that investing in improvements together will benefit both parties and the industry as a whole. As Kim van der Weerd put it, “sharing the risk and reward.”
Have you seen any interesting projects using only renewable energy? Let us know in the comments and for an inspiring story, read about Angel Chang’s new line using no electricity at all, only sun, plants, and mountain water ⛰️
Until next time friends, always be curious and stay diligent! 👋