Lululemon, Shein, and Fast Retailing at the Bottom for Climate Efforts

cartoon of shein chasing paraguay around a race track

Stand.earth reveals that Shein now emits more pollution annually than the entire nation of Paraguay. (Cartoon Credit generated by ChatGPT)

by | Jun 11, 2024

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Fashion Faces Scrutiny Over Greenwashing and Emissions

With growing pressure on the fashion industry to address its environmental footprint, Lululemon is facing criticism for its limited progress in adopting sustainable practices. According to a new report by Stand.earth, Lululemon is falling short in its efforts to reduce reliance on fossil fuels and lower emissions.

Stand.earth’s 2024 Clean Energy Close Up report highlights significant gaps in decarbonization efforts among eleven major fashion brands, with Lululemon’s recent shortcomings brought into sharper focus following the greenwashing allegations filed against the company earlier this year.

Lululemon’s Environmental Claims Under Investigation

Lululemon, renowned for its high-end athletic wear, is under investigation by Canada’s Competition Bureau following the complaint from Stand.earth. The complaint alleges that Lululemon has misled consumers about its environmental impact. Upon adopting the slogan “Be Planet,” Lululemon’s 2023 Impact Report revealed a 100% increase in climate pollution since the slogan’s inception. This staggering rise in emissions contradicts the company’s stated public commitment to environmental stewardship, while it has also just reported rapid growth in first quarter 2024 with gross profits increasing to $1.3 billion, 11% over the same time span last year.

Over 60% of Lululemon’s materials are derived from fossil fuels, notorious for contributing to climate change and environmental degradation. These materials are challenging to recycle, non-biodegradable, and release microplastics into the oceans, exacerbating marine pollution. Stand.earth’s complaint calls for the rescission of Lululemon’s claims and underscores the need for brands to make accurate and transparent environmental assertions.

The 2024 Clean Energy Close Up Findings

The Clean Energy Close Up paints a grim picture of the fashion industry’s progress, with Shein, UNIQLO (Fast Retailing), and Lululemon rounding out the lowest-scoring brands amongst the eleven evaluated for their efforts to reduce emissions, phase out coal, and transition to renewable energy. Most brands scored below 25 out of a possible 100 points, indicating a widespread failure to make meaningful progress toward decarbonization.

Among the brands assessed, Levi’s, Puma, and H&M were the only ones on track to reduce their manufacturing emissions by at least 55% by 2030, compared to 2018. These companies have shown some commitment to sustainable practices, but significant challenges remain. For example, Puma has increased its use of clean energy, yet it needs to provide more detailed reporting on its renewable energy sources to validate its claims.

Fast-fashion behemoth Shein received a dismal score of 2.5 out of 100 and saw its absolute emissions surge by nearly 50% in a single year. For context, this increase puts Shein’s annual pollution levels exceeding those of the entire nation of Paraguay. Such rapid expansion by the e-retailer poses a significant risk to the decarbonization efforts achieved by more established brands.

Greenwashing and Accountability in the Fashion Industry

The persistent issue of greenwashing remains a significant challenge in the fashion industry, as brands often deploy marketing strategies to overstate their environmental credentials or deflect attention from their adverse impacts. This deceptive practice misleads consumers and obstructs genuine progress toward sustainability. The investigation into Lululemon’s sustainability claims and the heightened scrutiny of Shein’s transparency issues, especially as it approaches its London IPO, underscore the critical need for enhanced transparency and accountability.

Each company highlighted in the Close Up report has faced greenwashing accusations from various quarters. Although some brands are indeed making progress in sustainability, it is crucial that their reports remain factual and free from marketing distortions. Accurate reporting is essential to ensure that environmental claims are credible and contribute to real sustainability efforts.


Rachel Kitchin, Senior Corporate Climate Campaigner at Stand.earth and lead author of the report: “The good news is that progress is happening. The bad news is that that progress is being undermined by dangerous pollution from ultra-fast fashion and the growing threat of greenwashing. Simply put, most brands are not yet on track to decarbonize, and many are heading in the wrong direction, and no matter the price printed on the tag, people and the planet are left to pay the true costs. These big players in the fashion industry must show leadership by rapidly phasing out fossil fuels and investing in tangible, renewable energy solutions.”


Path Forward for Sustainable Fashion

Despite the challenges, there are signs of progress. Brands like Puma and H&M are beginning to take steps towards cleaner energy usage and supporting their suppliers in transitioning to renewable energy. These efforts must be scaled up and made more transparent to ensure they contribute meaningfully to reducing the industry’s overall environmental footprint.

The 2024 Clean Energy Close Up report and its accompanying Fashion Supply Chain Map highlight the critical gap between brands’ ambitious sustainability goals and their actual implementation. As the fashion industry grows, it must address its heavy reliance on fossil fuels and move towards more sustainable, circular practices to mitigate its impact on the environment and global communities.

The journey towards a sustainable fashion industry is complex and requires concerted effort from all stakeholders. To foster a genuinely sustainable future, brands must prioritize decarbonization, transparent reporting, and support for their supply chains.

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