Trace – a carbon management platform – founder Cat Long discusses three key ways fashion brands can make a difference to their impact now. 

As someone who has launched their own fashion business with the determination to make it sustainable from day one, I know how challenging it can be to take some of those steps.

I wanted to use local suppliers, keep waste to a minimum, and become carbon neutral, but there were so many barriers.

I realised that, while it may never be perfect, every effort I made would have a more positive impact than doing nothing at all.

Fashion retailers and brands are facing growing criticism for their imperfect attempts to become more sustainable, and there is growing scrutiny from the industry and consumers alike on the transparency with which they communicate these sustainability initiatives; the line can become blurry between real climate action with tangible impacts, and plain greenwashing.

The good news is, this scrutiny is raising the bar for what ‘good’ looks like in sustainable fashion, but on the flip side, there is notable pressure on the smaller brands who often lack the resources to evaluate and overcome barriers to improving their sustainability and in turn, meet their internal environmental goals and customer expectations.

Two years after launching our fashion business, co-founder Joanna Auburn and I decided to devise a solution to streamline the process for other small businesses to take climate action, and so Trace was born.

These are the key things we've learnt along the way.

Review your operations from cloth to coat hanger

The best first step to becoming more sustainable is to collate all the available data on your current environmental impact – from the emissions created throughout the supply chain and your operations (including staff), to waste management and
material sourcing.

This will shine a light on which parts of your business’ operations are most significantly contributing to your carbon footprint.

Armed with the relevant data, you can make informed decisions that don’t fall apart when scrutinised because they are meaningfully aligned to where you know your impact will be greatest.

Enable customers to be conscious-consumers

Once a customer buys your product, the fate of all the materials, energy and resources that went into making it, are in their hands.

But that doesn’t mean the brand's role has to end there.

Textile production is one of the most polluting industries; every 10 minutes, an estimated 6000 kilos of textiles and clothing are
dumped in landfill in Australia.

Facilitating programs that encourage re-use and resale ensure your products get the long life they deserve and divert them from landfill.

And it’s not just good for the environment – taking part in the growing circular fashion trend could be good for your bottom line, and brand guardianship too.

Offset your carbon footprint to take immediate action

While certain initiatives to improve the sustainability of your business will take months or even years to achieve, you can still take steps to make an immediate positive impact.

Once you understand where your business’ carbon emissions are being created, those emissions that can’t be avoided (at least in the short-term) can be ‘offset’ in order for the business to become ‘carbon neutral’.

And becoming a carbon neutral brand is far from tokenistic – it’s tied to real sustainability projects, ranging from biodiversity restoration, to community wind farm investments, tree planting and clean water supply initiatives – all of these linking back to the UN Sustainable Development Goals, meaning your impact goes even further.

It is important to do your due diligence and work with experts who are transparent about their processes and only fund projects that are carefully handpicked from those certified by trusted organisations such as Gold Standard and South Pole.

With the right partners by your side, carbon measurement and offsetting is one of the best and only ways to take immediate climate action, whilst being a fantastic tool to help you rise to the new standard of sustainability that’s changing the fashion industry for the better.

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