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Lululemon gets failing climate grade in emissions report

The Vancouver-based athletic apparel company is “travelling dangerously in the wrong direction” on GHG emissions, environmental group says

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Greenhouse gas emissions from Lululemon’s global supply chain are projected to be as much as nine times higher than its 2030 target despite a stated commitment to cut emissions intensity by 60 per cent by 2030, according to a recent report.

The emission projections place the Vancouver-based athletic apparel company among the worst-performing fashion companies in the report, which included major fashion brands like Nike, Adidas, H&M and Chanel.

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“For a company with the tag line ‘Be Planet’ as a core tenet of its business, this kind of emissions growth raises serious questions about how true that claim is”, said Rachel Kitchin, author of the report and an advocate with environmental advocacy group stand.earth.

Lululemon’s manufacturing emissions have increased every year since 2018, the company’s baseline emissions year, and work to meet its 2030 targets “needs acceleration,” according to the company’s 2022 Impact Report.

Lululemon didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment.

In news releases and public documents, the company has highlighted its use of recycled and plant-based nylon as part of its decarbonization efforts and is “accelerating the use of renewable energy in our operations and supply chain.” This includes contributing to a program from the Apparel Impact Institute seeking to remove up to 100 million tonnes of CO2 from fashion supply chains.

Fashion is a multitrillion-dollar industry, responsible for eight per cent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. Its supply chain is still heavily dependent on coal, which powers factories and production processes, much of it in Asia.

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Like most clothing companies, Lululemon outsources the production of its apparel to other companies, primarily in Vietnam, Cambodia, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Indonesia, according to Kitchin.

Lululemon’s 2022 Impact Report states that 99 per cent of the company’s emissions came from indirect or “Scope 3” sources, the supply chain made up of manufacturing facilities, raw material suppliers and transportation.

Kitchin said that without ambitious Scope 3 emissions targets that include transitioning to renewable energy, greenhouse gas emissions from Lululemon and the fashion industry as a whole “will just keep growing out of control.”

People walk past the Lululemon store at Burrard and Robson Streets in downtown Vancouver, B.C. on Wednesday, December 13, 2023.
People walk past the Lululemon store at Burrard and Robson streets in downtown Vancouver on Dec. 13. Photo by Jason Payne /PNG

In 2020, Lululemon signed on to the UN’s “Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action,” which includes a commitment to cutting emissions by 2030 and achieving net zero by 2050. Signatories of the Fashion Charter commit to phasing out on-site coal in manufacturing by 2030 at the latest.

H&M, Puma and Adidas “have brought forward a public target of being coal-free in factories by 2025,” Kitchin wrote in her report and credited Levi’s for achieving a “steady downward trend” in emissions.

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“Levi’s was one of the first brands to set an ambitious scope commitment aligned with 1.5 C, and their near-term target and active engagement with suppliers has resulted in really encouraging progress towards decarbonization,” she said.

“A transition to renewable energy (wind and solar) in the supply chain by 2030 is the most important thing the sector can do to reduce emissions.”

One-point-five Centigrade refers to the target limit for global warming above pre-industrial levels, as outlined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The Lululemon store at Burrard and Robson Streets in downtown Vancouver, B.C.
The Lululemon store at Burrard and Robson streets in downtown Vancouver. Photo by Jason Payne /PNG

In its 2022 Impact Report, Lululemon acknowledged the work that remains to be done in reducing emissions.

“We have a critical role to play, and we act to drive decarbonization of our business’s and our industry’s value chain,” the company wrote.

In 2022, Lululemon created the equivalent of 847,400 metric tonnes of CO2 in the production of its clothing. That’s about the same as driving 208,000 cars for a year and is more than double the company’s 2018 emissions.

Kitchin said Lululemon’s aggressive growth was directly connected to its rising emissions.

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“The company has been pursuing aggressive business and sales growth, without investing enough of that revenue in reducing its climate impact,” she said.

A week after the stand.earth’s report, Lululemon announced a billion-dollar stock buyback following third-quarter results of $2.2 billion in net revenue. The company aims to double its 2021 net revenue to $12.5 billion by 2026.

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