5 Growing Sustainable Shipping Practices in the Fashion Industry. When we think about the journey of our clothes, it simply isn’t a case of a garment being made in one place and delivered to another.
In the fast fashion market, a journey of a single garment usually starts in more developed countries where the raw material is sourced (Italy being number 2 in exporting fabrics like silk, linen and wool, with the US following suit). It is then shipped to less developed countries to be spun, sent to another to be manufactured, washed and dyed, and then shipped back to more developed countries to be sold. With off-shore manufacturing for brands across the globe, the transport of a finished garment is usually shipped across continents, meaning it’s the longest journey in the supply chain.
Shipping alone contributes to 3.5% to 4% of all climate change emissions, and that’s usually the final stage of your desired garments journey. Although much better than air freight (contributing to 10 times more CO2 than ships), it still isn’t perfect. In the US, around 2009, studies found that one cargo ship emits as much pollution as 50 million cars, leading to goals to reduce emissions worldwide.
A great solution to reduce transport emissions would be buying locally sourced and manufactured garments, but that can only sometimes be the case. Therefore, the fashion industry has been finding innovative and impactful ways to ship their garments to minimise environmental impact; these include:
1. Use of eco-friendly packaging materials
Between 2000 and 2019, packaging contributed to 40% of plastic waste, and the production, transportation and efforts to dispose of the packaging itself can be energy-intensive and release massive amounts of greenhouse gasses.
Amazingly, brands like ASOS and ZARA have introduced greener alternatives for packaging. With a target to contribute zero waste to landfills by 2025, Zara has been using recycled cardboard boxes, reusing bags and hangers.
Using paper and cardboard packaging, we are looking at a recyclable material that can be reproduced 5 to 7 times! Even luxury brand Calvin Klein has ensured that 74% of their packaging is recyclable since PVH (Owners of Calvin Klein) have committed to having 100% sustainable packaging by 2025.
2. Use of low-emission transportation
By utilising hybrid or electric vehicles for shipping goods, brands are taking a big chunk out of their transportation emissions as well as encouraging their logistics partners to invest in cleaner and more fuel-efficient transportation methods, ultimately reducing carbon emissions.
A great example of low-emission delivery for the fashion industry is the recent collaboration with Swedish electric motorcycle manufacturer CAKE and electric truck company Volta Trucks to offer the H&M Group a sustainable delivery solution in Paris. Planned to begin this year, H&M will use electric trucks and electric two-wheelers to deliver orders directly from their warehouses to customers’ doors. The initiative, designed for urban logistics, aims to minimise the environmental impact on the city.
3. Consolidating shipping and optimisation
The goal here is to reduce fuel consumption and the number of total trips using consolidated shipments and optimised routes.
This practice helps maximise transportation vehicles’ capacity, resulting in lower carbon emissions per product shipped.
In 2021, 83.6% of Stella McCartney’s carbon impact was through transport alone. That’s transporting goods by road, rail and air.
To minimise emissions, unique management systems are being planned. These involve energy-efficient routes, better product manufacturing times to reduce the need for air transport and reducing the number of overall shipments by improved consolidation.
4. Shared Logistics
Collaborative efforts between multiple brands or retailers allow for shared logistics, which can significantly reduce the number of vehicles on the road.
Shared warehouses, distribution centres, and transport networks enable more efficient and sustainable shipping practices.
Brand collaboration has many benefits, from extended customer reach, increased brand visibility and awareness, cross-promotions, and competitive advantage.
The beauty of brand collaborations is the sustainability factor, and brands like Patagonia have teamed with REI and are a leading example of transparency with their supply chain and goals on sustainability.
As well as this, collaboration with other brands with similar attitudes towards sustainability means consolidated shipments, ultimately reducing the number of trucks on the road.
5. Circular logistics
With reverse and circular logistics, sustainability doesn’t end when the product is delivered. By incorporating reverse logistics in sustainable shipping practices, brands facilitate product returns, repairs and recycling to minimise waste and reduce the need for new product manufacturing and shipping.
Levi’s SeconHand program is an excellent example of reverse and circular logistics. The recycling program allows customers to bring their old jeans to participating stores and receive a discount on a new pair. Although not a fully emission-free option, it ultimately saves water and carbon that is used to create a new team and ship newer products.
Sadly, it’s only available in the US, but many other brands are doing similar programmes worldwide.
The future is looking bright for the fashion industry, but we’re not out of the woods yet. An upward trend of sustainable shipping practices in the fashion industry demonstrates a commitment to reducing environmental impact. By adopting transparent supply chains, promoting resource efficiency and mitigating carbon emissions in their shipping practices, fashion brands are doing their part to contribute to a more sustainable future.
We, as consumers, on the other hand, can do our part by being environmentally conscious when choosing where we select our garments. Remember, we have the power to make sustainable choices.
Wear what you love. Cherish it, and it lasts a long time!
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