As the fashion industry continues to address its role in the climate crisis, Italy’s most valuable luxury brand has said it has become an entire carbon neutral company.
Gucci outlined its strategy on Thursday, which stretches from its supply chain to its fashion shows and comprises a mixture of reduction, elimination and offsetting what it calls “unavoidable emissions”.
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“The more time that goes by, the more reports from the scientists are clear – the planet has gone too far,” the chief executive, Marco Bizzarri, told the Guardian.
Companies often equate being carbon neutral – the action of removing the same amount of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as they put into it, whether it be from production, to transport to packaging – to offsetting its directly managed usage.
By incorporating its entire supply chain into its strategy, which includes external businesses such as the tanneries, Bizzarri says the brand is targeting the part of its production that causes the most damage. The company says the early supply chain currently accounts for 90% of its greenhouse gas emissions.
Gucci will be reliant on its environmental profit and loss report to identify where greenhouse gases are being emitted so they know which areas need to be reviewed as well as finding out what needs to be offset.
It will partner with Redd+ – a UN project to reduce emissions from deforestation – on four projects that support forest conservation in Peru, Kenya, Indonesia, and Cambodia to offset carbon emissions it cannot eliminate.
Addressing the skepticism surrounding carbon offsetting, Bizzarri acknowledged that over time and with the advancement of technology, there will be improved ways to reduce emissions without the need for offsetting.
“But if we wait to be perfect, in terms of the calculation of impact or methodology, to me it’s just an excuse for not doing it,” he said. “More and more, we just need to act. We are not perfect [and] it’s not a matter of saying we are the best, it’s a matter of showing it can be done, and hopefully [others] will follow this path.”
Potential ways in which technology will assist in future include lab-grown leather, which Bizzarri says currently is not of the quality or scalability the business requires. Another is an online alternative to its fashion shows. On average, 2,000 people attend events four times a year in various locations around the world.
He said: “In the future, we can look at going in that direction, but at the moment for me, the level of technology is not yet there, so the [show] is the best way to present the ideas of a luxury fashion house like ours … the level at which we do these shows is paramount in the connectivity of our creative directors and design teams because they express the narrative of the collection [to customers].”
For its spring/summer 2020 show, due to take place in Milan next week, the brand will offset its guests’ carbon footprint and the set of the show will be reused in its shops.
“For a company like ours, there is no better way to do it than to offset,” said Bizzarri. He stressed that his role as CEO was to protect his staff while also trying to future-proof the group environmentally.
“The best way to have zero emissions is to close the company, but then 18,000 people will lose their jobs. When we talk about the environment, we need to keep that in mind as well,” he said.
“Offsetting is better than not doing anything, and if in the long-term it can be done [differently] we can look at that. But there is a danger, to [thousands of people] to go too much in a different direction [too quickly].”
Gucci’s environmental profit and loss initiative have been operating since 2015 as a part of its 10-year sustainability strategy, which includes reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2025.
Last year its annual report showed it was on track to do so, with emissions down by 16%. In some areas, it has implemented sustainable manufacturing and sourcing initiatives that avoided 440,125 tonnes of carbon emissions in 2018.
The brand was one of the 32 to sign up to the Fashion Pact last month. The initiative, spearheaded by François-Henri Pinault, chief executive of Kering, which owns Gucci, highlighted the urgent and collaborative action required to start making a tangible impact, a sentiment reiterated by Bizzarri who extended the invitation to protest groups such as Extinction Rebellion. The activist group has called for an end to the biannual showcase and plans to stage a funeral at London fashion week next Tuesday.
Bizzarri said: “The best thing is not to stop fashion week, but to have [them] at the table and to work together so we can do something together. That doesn’t mean people shouldn’t protest, I think it is a democracy and they should do it as long as it’s not violent. But to me, the final aim of all this should be activists and companies working together to find common ground.”