I’ve been very interested in the idea of climate “positive” fashion. In all of our searches to create an industry that doesn’t harm the people in it or the planet, regenerative design has given us a lot of hope that fashion with a positive social and environmental impact is truly possible. And with my limited scientific background, the idea of regenerative agriculture seemed to be the solution to creating a pair of jeans that could act like a carbon sink, leaving the planet better than if the jeans had never been made. But what does it mean to be climate positive in this day and age? Is it really possible to achieve?
Producing anything requires energy and resources, so creating a carbon sink out of a t-shirt or pair of jeans is extremely challenging especially with the amount of data that is required to measure this. But, because we can grow everything from the fibers in our jeans to the dyes, there is a possibility that regenerative farming measures can draw down more carbon than producing a pair of jeans creates.
Two regenerative projects that really caught my eye were Christy Dawn and Organic Basics regenerative cotton programs. Christy Dawn’s “Farm to Closet” capsule collection sequesters 22 pounds of carbon, and even so aren’t marketing themselves as climate positive. Organic Basics’s goal is to convert 30,000m² of conventional cotton farming to regenerative cotton farming by 2022 with the support of WWF Turkey. But, neither of these projects are claiming to be climate positive.
But, if you set out to look for regenerative fibers like Good Earth Cotton, for example, the pickings are slim, especially for small to medium sized brands who do not have the funding to start their own intensive regenerative agriculture systems. So, if we can’t draw down more carbon than we emit, we turn to offsetting projects to reverse our wrong-doings.
In the past couple of years, we have seen brands slapping “carbon-neutral” all over products that offset the amount of carbon that is emitted. But, we’ve come to a point in the sustainable fashion conversation where carbon-neutral isn’t enough and why we have started smelling the new buzzword “climate positive.” So, brands that want to use their companies for positive social and environmental impact turn to supporting projects like forest restoration, direct carbon capture, land restoration, and so on to leave the world better than they found it.
In the first quarter of 2021, 38.6 million metric tons of offsets were purchased globally, according to Ecosystems Marketplace, which is equivalent to 10 coal-fired power plants. Experts also predict that offset purchases could grow to the equivalent of 500 coal plants by 2030, growing the offset market to more than $50 billion!
But, after many investigations, offsets are not the hero in our climate change narrative. The offset market is highly unregulated and many are based on questionable assumptions that ultimately allow brands to greenwash their image whether that’s intentional or not. The Climate Neutral certification only works with 5 offsetting companies out of the hundreds in the world because only these 5 have met their standards: Verified Carbon Standard, American Carbon Registry, Gold Standard, Clean Development Mechanism and Climate Action Reserve.
So if offsetting isn’t our answer, are there really clothes out there that are climate positive? The closest thing I’ve seen is Angela Chang’s new line made with just sun, plants, mountain water, and no electricity at all. Each piece is made in a lush remote village in the Karst Mountains of Southwest China where the village literally has no electricity. The cotton is grown organically along with the villagers food, is hand-spun into yarns, hand woven, hand-dyed, hand-knotted, and hand sewn all within a 30-mile radius. Pretty damn impressive. But even this idyllic process emits 0.4 kgs of CO2e.
Clothing will always have an impact, but the hope is that brands show how they are reducing their impact, and be transparent about their goals and how they plan to get there. We might not have climate positive clothes that sequester carbon yet, but carbon can become a unifying metric.
What does climate positive mean to you? Leave some commments below!
Until next time friends, always be curious and STAY DILIGENT 🧐