We Want to Become a Role Model in Europe and Eventually to the World

In March this year, Fashion Council Germany (FCG) published a landmark report on the environmental impact of the German fashion industry titled German Fashion Footprint. The first of a kind, the report is a treasure trove of information. The Council's Managing Director Scott Lipinski talks about the lessons learnt and the way forward in this freewheeling interview.

Long Story, Cut Short
  • Fashion Council Germany feels there is a need for action to enable a sustainable future for Germany’s fashion industry, which is one of the largest in the world.
  • The survey was conducted by Oxford Economics, accompanied by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH and funded by the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).
  • The study on the status of German fashion in 2021 created an initial basis to conduct well-founded dialogues at political and business levels. The new report goes deeper still, and provides a wealth of previously unavailable and summarised data.
Germany is one of the largest fashion markets in the world and home to many internationally renowned fashion brands such as Adidas, Puma and Hugo Boss. Therefore, trends and practices from Germany have a significant impact on the environment worldwide. The German Fashion Footprint study examines the industry's environmental footprint based on five main factors: greenhouse gas emissions, energy consumption, air pollution, water consumption and agricultural land use.
Underlying Footprint Germany is one of the largest fashion markets in the world and home to many internationally renowned fashion brands such as Adidas, Puma and Hugo Boss. Therefore, trends and practices from Germany have a significant impact on the environment worldwide. The German Fashion Footprint study examines the industry's environmental footprint based on five main factors: greenhouse gas emissions, energy consumption, air pollution, water consumption and agricultural land use. wwwuppertal / Flickr 2.0

The first thing that strikes one is that such reports are mostly published by government agencies or civil society organisations. This industry-initiated study is arguably the first of its kind. What made Fashion Council Germany commission such a study? What were the underlying ideas/sentiments?
We published our study on the Status of German Fashion at the beginning of last year. In this study, we took a closer look at the economic relevance of the German fashion industry. For our latest study on the German Fashion Footprint we also considered pre-pandemic data from 2019. Hence, we understand our latest report as an important continuation. As the previous report, the study was conducted by Oxford Economics and funded by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH on behalf of the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ). Both studies serve as an important basis of knowledge for our work with the industry and governmental institutions. We found it a logical next step to discuss the footprint of our fashion industry. We are already in planning for new releases and additions in 2023.

Were the findings what you had expected to see? Or, is the environmental impact much larger than you thought?
Since we already know the results from the previous study on the Status of German Fashion, we expected a relatively large impact of the German fashion industry on the five factors we considered in the German Fashion Footprint. The significant results surprised everyone involved in the study and strengthens the obvious urge to change the disruptive mechanism of the industry. I want to give you an example of one of the study’s key facts:

In the latest study we estimated that in 2019, the German fashion industry’s global greenhouse gas footprint was just over 38 million tonnes (CO2e). This is equivalent to the average annual emissions of 1.9 million German households, or 8.7 million trips around the earth in a family car. It is also a similar magnitude to the total direct emissions of Slovakia in 2019 (42 million tonnes), or the business and government direct emissions of Sweden (47 million tonnes).

Likewise, we found out that Germany ranks first by far with over 853 million tonnes of CO2e looking at the total greenhouse gas emissions (industry and private households) from all EU28 countries, ahead of the UK (2nd) with more than 501 million tonnes CO2e and France (3rd) with nearly twice as much as Germany with more than 450 million CO2e.

You write in your foreword: "We see it as a game-changing tool for reversing or stopping developments that have been proceeding in the wrong direction."  What is the first thing that comes to your mind that needs to be reversed or stopped? After all, there are far too many things that need to be done.
The study primarily serves as a basis for our work here at Fashion Council Germany. Not only in Germany, but for all EU countries, the Supply Chain Act has already been initiated. This is, for example, an important instrument to transform the German and European fashion industry in the long run to a sustainable and hopefully soon circular economy.

At the same time, we understand the fashion industry as an "ecosystem" in which not only many companies, but also every individual is directly or indirectly involved. Every human being on this planet wears clothes or textiles that have been more or less industrially produced. Accordingly, we also see a certain responsibility on the part of end consumers (at least in the leading industrial nations) to make their purchasing decisions (more) carefully.

We, as Fashion Council Germany, also see a certain responsibility in educating the next generation(s). With the help of education, we wish to stop rampant consumerism and the urge to buy new and cheap clothes. We want to set an incentive to take care of or repair your used items. The game changing factor about the report is to open eyes and create more awareness with facts and figures. That is the basis for all further steps.

According to the report, the greenhouse footprint of the German fashion industry was over 38 million tonnes (CO₂e) in 2019. This corresponds to the average annual emissions of 1.9 million German households or 8.7 million trips around the world in a family car. Furthermore, this value is roughly equivalent to the total direct emissions of Slovakia in 2019(42 million tonnes of CO₂e) or the direct emissions of business and administration in Sweden (47 million tonnes of CO₂e).  ‍
Invisible Impact According to the report, the greenhouse footprint of the German fashion industry was over 38 million tonnes (CO₂e) in 2019. This corresponds to the average annual emissions of 1.9 million German households or 8.7 million trips around the world in a family car. Furthermore, this value is roughly equivalent to the total direct emissions of Slovakia in 2019 (42 million tonnes of CO₂e) or the direct emissions of business and administration in Sweden (47 million tonnes of CO₂e). Bicanski / Pixnio

The report is a wealth of information, and it will take time to sink in. What do you, as the apex industry body in Germany, plan to translate the findings into meaningful and practicable action?
As an association, we work with many national and international partners to achieve our goals of promoting fashion as an economic and cultural asset in a circular system. At the same time, we are also working with our members to realise projects, programmes and workshops to shed light on precisely these complex problems mentioned in the study. Last but not least, we also plan to continue both studies Status of German Fashion and German Fashion Footprint and publish sequences with current economic and social data.

This question is related to the previous one. P27 of the report very clearly says "We can’t change the fashion industry alone". This has been one of the biggest challenges facing industry worldwide. How can you do this in Germany, and also have a bearing on the value chain across the world?
The report makes it clear that we can only achieve more efficient and effective results in the future with partners. The study also gives several examples of this. As Fashion Council Germany, we not only want to draw attention to the impact of the German fashion industry, but we also want to make clear what opportunities for change such an economic power can imply. Together with our European partners, we are formulating goals to establish a more sustainable fashion industry in the long term. Simplified, one could also say that we are aware of our responsibility and at the same time want to become a role model in Europe and eventually to the world.

This report takes off from the earlier State of German Fashion 2021. So, the obvious question would be: what needs to be studied next? Social impact? Impact on countries elsewhere in Europe or the world?
Absolutely right! In a following report, we want to include not only economic and ecological impacts but also social aspects to a greater extent. The last study on the global impact of the German fashion industry already examined the worldwide consequences in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, energy consumption, air pollution, water consumption and agricultural land requirements. In the next step, we want to consider all aspects of the "fashion ecosystem" and formulate recommendations for action for the industry and politics.

One very important development that happened even while this report was being finalised was the announcement of the EU Textiles Strategy. How does this help matters? Does it make it easier for Fashion Council Germany to implement your plans?
As a patron of the German fashion industry and as an association that empowers the German fashion and design landscape for a visionary, technological and sustainable future in a global market, we naturally endorse the Green Deal and the goals of the EU strategy for sustainable and recyclable textiles. These will not only help us to realise our visions, but primarily those who are part of the industry we eventually represent.  

Last but not least, at this point I would like to briefly mention the cross-disciplinary initiative "The New European Bauhaus" supported by the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, which we plan to continue with our conference format inviting national and European partners to address the urgent issues of sustainability, inclusion and innovation to a broader public.

We understand the fashion industry as an "ecosystem" in which not only many companies, but also every individual is directly or indirectly involved. Every human being on this planet wears clothes or textiles that have been more or less industrially produced. Accordingly, we also see a certain responsibility on the part of end consumers (at least in the leading industrial nations) to make their purchasing decisions (more) carefully.

Scott Lipinski
Scott Lipinski / Managing Director / Fashion Council Germany
 
 
  • Dated posted: May 27, 2022
  • Last modified: May 27, 2022