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FINALLY! Chanel Goes Green

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Great news! Chanel goes green with its signing of the Fashion Pact and Chanel Mission 1.5. But is it enough?

By Chere Di Boscio

Kering kind of started it all.

The luxury group’s flagship brand, Gucci, has a sustainability track record that goes back as far as 2004, when the Italian label launched a voluntary certification process in the field of Corporate Social Responsibility to be applied to its entire production chain. Three years later, in August 2007, Gucci was the first to achieve such official certification in the field of luxury goods for the supply chain of its leather goods and jewellery. What that means is that no toxins are used in the tanning or dyeing of Gucci’s leather goods, and all their jewellery is ethically mined. 

In 2010, Gucci changed its packaging, producing it exclusively from either recycled materials or  paper certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, which is 100% sustainable and recyclable. Gucci also subscribed to a moratorium with Greenpeace that ensures consumers their leather doesn’t come from cattle raised on former rainforest in the Amazon. And in the same year, they also opposed the eco-harmful practice of sandblasting jeans.

Changes such as these were not made only via the Gucci brand, but throughout the Kering Group, which includes Alexander McQueen, Saint Laurent and other prestigious brands.

But unlike their biggest competitors, Chanel lagged behind in its commitment to the planet. Until now, that is.

That’s not to say that Chanel hasn’t taken a few steps towards sustainability. In 2018, they pledged to ban fur and exotic skins from their collections, because it had become increasingly difficult to source materials that met the house’s quality and ethical standards. Also in 2018, its Chanel Parfums Beauté subsidiary acquired a stake in Finnish startup Sulapac, which has developed a new material that is industrially recyclable and totally biodegradable in seawater. And last June, it took a minority stake in Evolved by Nature – a green chemistry company that has created a natural silk-based alternative to some of the toxic chemicals used in textile manufacturing.

But more recently, Chanel has made even bigger commitments to the environment.

The Fashion Pact and Chanel Mission 1.5º

Along with other luxury labels like Marni, Chloe and Prada, the brand signed the Fashion Pact last September.

The Fashion Pact is a pledge from 32 companies to eliminate single-use plastics by 2030 and back textile innovations to mitigate microfibre pollution. Currently, the industry is responsible for around 35 percent of the microplastics in the ocean. Emissions targets will also be set to limit global warming and to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. It’s estimated that currently, around six per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions come from textile production.

The Pact, which also promises social inclusion, fair wages and respectful working conditions throughout the supply chain, is not legally binding, but each member will present an annual progress report.

To top up their commitment to the environment, Chanel has announced that it will align with the goals of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, aimed at limiting the planet’s mean global temperature increases to 1.5° Celsius.

More specifically, the label has pledged to “reduce greenhouse gas emissions across Chanel operations by 50% by 2030, equivalent to a 66% reduction per unit sold [compared to 2018], and at the same time to reduce supply chain emissions by 40% per unit sold by 2030, again compared to 2018,” as indicated in the press release for ‘Chanel Mission 1.5º’. This will be chiefly achieved by adopting increasingly responsible sourcing policies, and by making vast improvements in these four key areas:

  • reducing its own and its supply chain’s carbon footprint
  • moving towards 100% renewable energy
  • balancing its residual carbon emissions
  • funding more projects aimed at reducing fashion’s impact on the planet

To reach these goals, Chanel intends to transition to “100% renewable energy for its directly run operations by 2025,” for example by installing solar panels at its manufacturing facilities. The plan is to increase the renewable share of the energy consumed globally by Chanel from 41% in 2019 to 97% in 2021.

Chanel said it “has joined the RE100 coalition, a group of influential businesses committed to the use of renewable energy.” The luxury house has also pledged to decarbonise its own operations and value chain, and also promised to fund more projects designed to compensate for its residual environmental impact, “notably by investing in nature-based solutions, such as projects to protect and restore forests, mangroves and peatlands.”

Finally, Chanel will finance environmental adaptation projects in order “to help the most vulnerable communities adapt to climate change, with the objective of reducing smallholder farmers’ and entrepreneurs’ vulnerability while also building resilient raw material supply chains, both outside and within our value chain.”

With the newly announced plan, “Chanel has made a clear commitment to accelerate the move to a lower carbon economy. ‘Chanel Mission 1.5°’ is embedded in our long-term vision, and reflects our ambitions to play our part in facing humanity’s biggest challenge and make the future of our company part of a more sustainable world,” Andrea d’Avack, chief sustainability officer at Chanel, stated in the press release.

d’Avack poignantly added: “the climate crisis represents the biggest issue of our age and demands urgent action to reduce negative environmental impacts and drive broader change.”

The Reality

While we praise all of Chanel’s efforts, and it’s great that Chanel goes green on quite a few important points. But there can be little doubt that this is one fashion house that can almost be defined by not only excellence, but excess. Its fashion shows are nothing short of exceptional spectacles that have transformed Paris’s Grand Palais into everything from chic airports and French rooftops to ultra-stylish supermarkets for a few days only before the sets are dismantled and disposed of. Apparently, there are no plans to end such lavish shows.

Their makeup and perfume brands far from natural, and include a number of toxic chemicals. Their clothing may be expensive, but it, too, contains plenty of artificial fibres and chemical finishes. What we’d love to see is an overhaul of the beauty brands, making them healthier and more natural, and perhaps vintage sales of Chanel’s products in their shops, too. That would be a wonderful way to ensure authenticity of second hand designer goods, and to offer customers a more sustainable approach to purchasing Chanel’s goods.

So yes, Chanel is on the right track, but it still has a long way to go if the brand cares about preserving the health of both the planet and its clients.

Chere Di Boscio

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