Climate Positivity

The Climate Problem 

The world is on fire. We shouldn't be seeing wildfires in California in January, Siberia shouldn't be frying in 38 degrees heat in the summer, the Amazon shouldn't be turning from the lungs of the planet into a net carbon emitter. But it's all happening in front of our faces. 

If we don't face up to the challenges of climate change (and a myriad of other environmental issues) our children and their children will live on a very different planet -one which is nothing like as hospitable and benign and nurturing as the one we see today and the one we've been lucky enough to grow up in.

The clothing industry is widely accepted to be responsible for somewhere between 2 and 5% of global greenhouse emissions; it produces over 100 million garments a year and less than one of these 1% is truly recycled into new clothing. It's an industry that is responsible for water pollution on a massive scale, climate pollution, and extreme social injustice. And as a clothing brand we have to hold our hands up to say we play a part in that. 

What are we doing about it? 

We started life as a “sustainable sportswear” brand but recently we’ve been questioning what "sustainable" even means in the clothing industry. At Presca we've decided that "sustainability" is not enough, if it maintaining the status quo. Instead as a brand we want to create positive change and do 100-percent good. It's a pipe dream, our long-term ambition and there are so many challenges to get there. 

We’re clear that we have a long way to go in the way we operate as a company. We drive to meetings more often that we'd like; we express ship clothing when we've had supply chain delays; there are some areas of our supply chain we would like to know more about; and, we talk about "sustainable sportswear" where in reality no sportswear is really sustainable, and won’t be for some time. 

We know we have a lot to learn and even more to achieve to reduce our impact on the environment, and to start to be actively positive in all we achieve. But we are striving to be a little bit better every day. 

Climate positive 

We have decided to shift our focus as a company away from generic “sustainability”. 

We’re certainly trying to make sustainable sportswear and we'll still use the terms sustainability and eco-friendly because sometimes it's just the level of conversation the people want to have but we see far too many companies in the industry claiming “sustainability is in our DNA”, with little evidence to back it up. 

We see far too many of our competitors using sustainability as a sales tool for a limited range of “sustainable” clothing or products where their core business is still the same old broken model that got us into this mess.

Instead, our focus here-on in will be on “climate positivity”. This doesn’t mean we’re going to stop paying attention to the much wider range of environmental and social issues that plague clothing manufacture but our primary measure will be greenhouse gas emissions.

So what does climate positive mean for us, now and in the future? Initially it means being net-positive in all we do but in time the aim is to be genuinely positive with regards our climate impact and beyond. 

Measuring emissions 

First up it means getting on top of our data to really understand the sources of our emissions. These are captured in our “Scope 1, 2 & 3 emissions”. Broadly speaking scopes 1 & 2 are emissions we have control over in the way we do business from day to day, and scope 3 are the emissions of our supply chain. And the majority of our supply chain emissions result from the making of our clothing AND the in-use phase. If you're a carbon nerd like me you'll know it's a lot more nuanced than that but for the purpose of this blog it's a decent start. 

A lot of companies only consider scopes 1 & 2, as that’s the easy thing to count, and the assumption is often made that it is the supply chain's responsibility to take care of their own emissions. But for activewear brands (and any clothing company) the real impact comes from the supply chain.

As much as 95% of a clothing company’s emissions can come from the supply chain. So we think it's crucial for anyone claiming to make "sustainable sportswear" to measure and mitigate the emissions associated with every part of their clothing. That's where scope 3 emissions come in.

Our scopes 1 & 2 

We have much more control over our scope 1 & 2 emissions, which are direct results of the way we run the business. 

It's a fairly tedious process calculating our carbon footprint from every activity. But it's one that we've gone through as part of our B Corp application (we're waiting on the assessment interview for this as we speak), and we've learned a lot about what we do well and where we need to improve (quite a few areas actually!) as we've gone through the process. 

As shown in our 2021 emissions report, the majority of our Scope 1 & 2 emissions come from how we travel, and the way our offices and homes (for those working from home) are powered.

Our Scope 3 emissions - supply chain 

Knowing that the bulk of our emissions will be Scope 3 we calculated the lifecycle emissions of every single piece of clothing we make in as much detail as we can. From the collection of the plastic bottles that make our jerseys, through manufacture. We also include the use phase by our customers – something normally overlooked in lifecycle assessment. But it accounts for approximately 1/3rd of the emissions associated with each piece of clothing so we didn’t want to ignore it.

If we really wanted to go to town on our scope 3 emissions we'd be looking at the cement and steel used in the building of the factories, as well as how their staff travel to work. We might look at that level of detail in future but for now we have to assume that's not our responsibility - we have to draw sensible "boundaries" on our emissions. 

Reducing emissions 

Once we know our emissions, we can work out how to reduce them and what to do with the remaining emissions, in order to become climate positive. Our 2021 emissions report sets out actions and targets for reducing our emissions. In order to minimise the emissions associated with our sportswear we have already gone through a process of: 

  • always choosing recycled materials, which reduce the energy required to make clothing (e.g. recycled polyesters use about 60% less energy to make) 
  • choosing factories powered by renewable energy, another important way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 
  • keeping our production as close to home as possible to reduce transport emissions. All our factories are in Europe as are our fabric mills. The majority of yarns and trim are also sourced from Europe. 
  • a policy of minimising express shipping of our clothing, which will minimise the amount of air freight used.

Whilst we know we've done well in some areas we have many areas still to explore, and areas where we can do better. For example with our teamwear orders, which are regularly required at short notice and express shipping is the only alternative. Or in the dyeing / finishing of our fabrics - we already account for this in our Scope 3 calculations, but some processes are far more eco friendly so we need to make sure we are choosing the lowest impact options for our sportswear wherever possible. 

Offsetting 

Now we understand our emissions for every garment we can now become “climate neutral”, or "net zero". We do this by offsetting the residual emissions with a UN Gold Standard offsetting programme using Atmosfair. Alongside this we have invested in tree planting schemes plus some offsetting through Greenstory, but these are in addition to the offsets made via Atmosfair.

    There is a really important debate around whether or not offsetting is an acceptable way of a company compensating for the damage it is doing through its products. This honest answer is that offsetting is way to ease our conscience and that of our community, whilst trying to make a positive impact. It’s an important way of recognising that we do have an impact and doing something about it, but at the end of the day it should never be used as a carte-blanche to carry on business as usual. 

    Ultimately we don’t want to offset but we do it right now because everything we make still has an impact. Our long term goal is to be genuinely climate positive through the products we make. Until we get there we see offsetting as an important tool in our fight against climate change. 

    Tree planting

    Lots of companies plant a tree per sale and call this “sustainable”. It’s definitely better than doing nothing but we decided against only planting trees because, whilst trees (planted in the right place) can offer a huge benefit outside of just locking up greenhouse gas emissions, they do take many years to grow to the point where they've locked up significant emissions.

    So, we choose to offset our emissions for each garment as well as planting a tree for each item of clothing we sell. Offset now. Plant a tree for the future.

    We're restoring mangrove in Madagascar through our partners at Eden Projects. You can learn more about that project in our blog on tree planting. 

    In 2021 we planted 14,950 trees.

    Is tree planting the best method of fighting climate change? It's certainly a very useful tool, but it’s one of many and we genuinely don’t really understand how this compares to other nature-based solutions that we can put our money into for genuine positive impact. So we’re investigating everything from rewilding farmland to planting seagrass and many things in between. 

    Stay tuned for an update on what we find. 

    Eden Reforestation - tree planting

    image from eden reforestation

    Where next? 

    Is everything mentioned above enough? We don’t think so. It’s not our end game, not by any stretch of the imagination. But it is an important starting point and for us framing the aims of the business around a very specific goal of climate positivity instead of the generic bracket of sustainability means that we have a true north star to challenge our decisions against. 

    It’s a long road to get to the point where every piece of clothing we make is genuinely climate positive. Many decisions we make in our business will always have a climate impact, such as the way we travel, how we power our offices, etc. But the key thing is challenging everything we do and everyone we work with to understand if there’s a way for us to Make Sportswear Better. 

    Climate positivity means investing our time and our energy and our money into projects that will actively prolong the life of our clothing, or into innovation that will specifically develop ways of reducing the energy requirements of the clothes we make or actively sequestering carbon through the production of fibres. 

    Buzzwords like regenerative and circular are everywhere in the industry at the moment. But we firmly believe that this is the way the industry needs to go. And fast. Without a massive shift towards these two principles the clothing industry will carry on its old polluting ways and will continue to wreak havoc on our increasingly unbalanced climate system.

    There are a number of sportswear and activewear brands who are really pushing the boundaries on this and a whole lot more who need to a lot better. We like to think we're one of the former, but we can't do it without our amazing community and supply chain. The best way for us to keep getting better is through constant challenge. So please; keep asking powerful questions; keep pushing us to be better; and, if you see something you don't like call us out on it.

    We are by no means perfect but hopefully with your support we're getting better each day. 

    If anything in this blog has sparked your interest do feel free to contact us on hello@prescasportswear.com 

    Rob Webbon
    CEO & Scientist


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