LONDON — Stella McCartney is digging deep — into the soil and into the details of her company’s day-to-day operations in an effort to reduce its impact on the environment.
McCartney, one of the first in the industry to create an annual environmental profit and loss statement, has published its 2021 impact report, which shows the brand’s €3.1m damage to the planet, mainly due to greenhouse gas emissions and land use.
McCartney uses the Impact Report 2021 as a platform to highlight society’s shortcomings, showcase its progress and reveal other changes aimed at combating the climate and biodiversity crises facing the planet.
“I’m incredibly proud of the steps we’ve taken, the positive changes we’ve implemented and the innovation we’re currently supporting, but there’s so much more we can do. And we will,” said McCartney, who began compiling similar accounts a decade ago, when her company was part-owned by Kering.
Citing his friend Thomas Friedman in the report, McCartney points out that, like most companies, hers relies on “free goods and services” from nature, such as clean air, fresh water, climate regulation and natural flood defenses, which are not easy to appreciate . – and are often ignored.
The report points out that the figure for 2021 of €3.1 million is significantly lower than in previous years, but urges readers not to place too much importance on the figure. In 2020, it reported a negative impact of 5.3 million euros.
It says the improved quality and quantity of data from direct operations and more sophisticated methodologies mean it is difficult to compare 2021 to previous years.
Stella McCartney Ltd., which now counts LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton as a minority partner, has used a new PwC-tailored methodology to calculate its environmental impact.
The report also sheds light on the fashion industry as a whole and the savings that can be made if brands are willing to invest money and work to improve the way they buy, design and produce.
It shatters some assumptions, namely that vegan does not equate to virtue – at least when it comes to environmental accounting.
Although McCartney’s company does not use fur, leather, feathers or other materials derived from dead animals, it does work with wool and silk, which together account for 68 percent of the company’s total material carbon footprint.
Wool had the largest carbon footprint due to the methane that is released when sheep digest food. The report added that manufacturing such as weaving, knitting and other fiber treatments also contribute a large proportion of emissions.
“We are constantly evaluating ways to reduce our product footprint, such as reducing the use of animal fibers in our collections, supporting recycled animal fibers where possible, and implementing internal sourcing policies to support regeneratively grown materials,” the report said.
At Stella McCartney, animal fibers generate the highest percentage of greenhouse gas emissions, followed by synthetic leather at 8.4 percent and vegetable fibers at 5.9 percent. The materials with the lowest impact are rubber, wood and paper.
In the report, the company promotes the use of organic cotton, which it says has a “significantly lower” environmental impact compared to conventionally grown cotton. Organic cotton farming uses no chemicals, fertilizers or pesticides and requires less water. It also preserves soil quality and reduces erosion.
Stella McCartney is increasing the use of organic cotton in its lines. In 2021, 78 percent of the cotton used in the brand’s products was from organic sources.
The company puts more emphasis on “regenerative resources”, supporting farms and other suppliers that reduce their environmental impact and promote soil health, carbon sequestration and biodiversity.
The report also highlights that Stella McCartney uses alternative and recycled materials.
In 2021, Stella McCartney unveiled prototype clothing and handbags made from Mylo, a mushroom-like, vegan alternative to animal skin. Falabella has incorporated more recycled content into the branded bag, allowing the company to reduce its reliance on virgin synthetic materials.
In July 2022, the Frayme Mylo bag, which is made entirely of mycelium, the web-like roots of mushrooms, landed in stores with a ticket price of £1,995.
McCartney said the “mushroom purse” marked a milestone in her long-standing relationship with California-based company Bolt Threads and the overall innovation of vegan materials.
In past years, she has worked with manufacturers and suppliers to create biodegradable fur coats from plant-based materials such as corn, and to produce eco-friendly stretch denim made from dyes from mushrooms and seaweed.
The company looked at how it operates internally and decided to achieve net zero carbon emissions in its direct operations and throughout its supply chain by 2040, based on its commitment to the Science Based Targets initiative and in line with the Paris Agreement.
The report estimates that in 2021, 21 percent of Stella McCartney’s total environmental impact came from its direct operations, and primarily from the fossil fuel energy needed to transport goods “from warehouses to retail premises, wholesalers and customers, by road, rail and air.”
The company believes the solution lies in better planning of product delivery times; using “more energy efficient” routes to move goods; worldwide inventory consolidation and improved return logistics. In the future, the company wants to focus more and more on shipping and rail transport and travel.
Also, packaging will go through the removal of pallets; reduction of plastic covers and replacement of disposable packaging and plastics.
According to the report, Stella McCartney’s UK stores and offices already run on 100 percent renewable energy, while store, office and window lighting is switched off daily from 10pm to further reduce consumption.
By 2030, the goal is to have all of its global stores, offices and warehouses running on renewable resources, the report said.
The company admits it uses too much water.
The use of brass (for accessories) is one of the culprits that generates 71 percent of Stella McCartney water pollution.
The use of silk in society and the associated cultivation and irrigation of mulberry trees also drains water from the environment. The report states that silk production accounted for 74 percent of the company’s total impact on water use in 2021.
In an effort to reduce water consumption, Stella McCartney plans to increase the use of organic cotton produced according to the Global Organic Textile Standard, which prioritizes water efficiency. He also plans to work more with fibers such as linen, which require little or no irrigation, opting for recycled fibers over virgin ones.
The report highlights the importance of a circular economy and says that Stella McCartney will do everything possible to prevent garments, scraps and unused fabrics from ending up as waste.
The company said it is increasing its use of recycled consumer waste, “designing for disassembly” and focusing on single-material construction to make repairs and recycling faster and easier.
It also offers a global repair system in its stores; labels with care instructions specified for each garment and a partnership with The RealReal sales platform in the US
None of this is cheap.
According to the company’s most recent filings with Companies House, the official UK business register, Stella McCartney Ltd. reported losses of £32.7m in the 2021 financial year on turnover of £32.5m.
Turnover in the 12 months to 31 December 2021 rose 14 per cent, while post-tax losses rose 4.3 per cent compared to the previous year due to COVID-19 and the cost of doing business sustainably.
Like many others, McCartney’s business ran into trouble in 2020 during the pandemic, when international travel and tourism ground to a halt, brick-and-mortar stores closed and expenses piled up.
In July 2020, the business began to downsize and restructure. It laid off staff, asked others to take long-term pay cuts, and scaled back some operations in an effort to reduce overall costs.
McCartney didn’t get paid that year.
At the time, the brand’s president and CEO, Gabriele Maggio, told WWD that “along with all companies in our sector, we are currently facing one of the most challenging times of any generation and are conducting a review to adapt our business to the changing economy of our industry.”
Over the following months, the brand made changes to its distribution, taking e-commerce in-house and managing this activity through its Italian subsidiary, Stella McCartney Italia Srl. Among other changes, he also transferred the children’s clothing business to a license with Simonetta SpA.
McCartney sold a minority stake in her company to LVMH in the summer of 2019 and has since been advising its founder Bernard Arnault and LVMH management on sustainability.
The designer has also collaborated with King Charles III on environmental projects and represented the fashion industry at the 2021 G7 summit in Cornwall, England.
Ahead of the summit, the King (then the Prince of Wales) gathered some of the most powerful CEOs to meet world leaders in Cornwall and called for “coordinated action to tackle climate change”.
The group is known as the Coalition of the Willing, and its leaders manage a total of $60 trillion.
McCartney said she was honored to represent the fashion industry, “one of the most polluting in the world. My goal is to drive change, encourage investment and make a lasting difference through incentives that support the next generation.”