reduce emissions from your outdoor brand operations

Sustainability Strategies for Outdoor Business: Reducing Carbon Footprint

Are you in the outdoor industry and looking to reduce your company’s carbon footprint? You’re in the right place, because today we’re looking at best practices by industry peers for improvement and reduction. But before even thinking of reduction, let’s double-check if you developed your corporate carbon inventory well. Certainly, the most represented categories will be specific to and reflect your business model – how and where you manufacture your products, what materials you make them from, how and where you transport them, and how they’re used and disposed of.  To see what you should consider including, we’ll look into what makes for these emissions and how the others account for them.     

Understanding the carbon footprint

Apparel industry

A study conducted by Quantis estimated that 8.1% of the global climate impact is attributed to the garment and footwear industry. The manufacture of fibres, yarn preparation, fabric preparation, dyeing, and finishing, assembly, distribution, and disposal are the most impactful phases of the garment industry’s life cycle. 

According to McKinsey, upstream operations such as material production, preparation, and processing accounted for almost 70% of total fashion sector emissions. The remaining 30% comes from downstream activities including shipping, packaging, retail operations, use, and end-of-use. 

Focusing on upstream operations, your company could reduce around 60% of emissions, particularly by boosting the use of renewable energy, and supplier engagement initiatives supported by retailers and brands. Approximately twenty percent of the reduction might be attained through the company’s internal operational improvements, with customer behaviour modifications accounting for the remaining portion.

The majority of these effects are directly related to the garment industry’s reliance on natural gas and hard coal to power major processing facilities and provide heat. Not only are Asian nations like China, India, and Bangladesh the biggest producers, but their energy mixes significantly rely on coal. The wet processes employed in dyeing operations, in particular, require a lot of energy to heat large quantities of water. The preparation of yarn (spinning) and fabric (knitting and weaving) contributes little to climate change as they primarily require power and very little extra heat. 60–70% of the effects of climate change in the dyeing and finishing stage are exhibited by hard coal and natural gas. Different energy mixtures in the various areas cause this discrepancy. 

The manufacturing of fibre, yarn, fabric, dyeing and finishing, assembly, distribution, and disposal are the most important phases of the garment lifecycle. Quantis’ analysis indicates that the three life cycle stages of yarn preparation, dying and finishing, and fibre production appear to be the main reasons for the industry’s global impact on emissions. 

Yarn preparation (28%) and dyeing and finishing (36%), in particular, have a big impact because of their energy-intensive processing and high reliance on fossil fuels. The third most important factor influencing how the industry affects global emissions is the manufacturing of fibre. The effects of disposal and distribution are negligible in contrast. However, selecting the appropriate means of transportation is still important. Even a 1% increase in transportation—from shipping to airfreight—would cause carbon emissions to surge by 35%. 

Material-based impact

The term preferred classifies fibres and materials that focus on environmental or social improvements before conventional choices status quo choices. When choosing materials for your products it is necessary to consider their environmental effect compared to their conventional counterparts. Given the variations in manufacturing methods and other factors, preferred materials and fibres shouldn’t be compared across categories.

Cotton can be a preferred fibre if it is grown to employ regenerative organic agricultural techniques, as this could have a favourable influence on carbon sequestration and considerable positive effects on climate change. Synthetics can also be preferred fibres if they are manufactured from recycled materials and developed in a way that reduces microplastics.

At least 64% of textile materials used now are synthetic, according to the Textile Exchange’s estimate for 2023. However, biosynthetic materials still need to undergo a considerable amount of development and scaling to be feasible alternatives. The extraction of all raw ingredients from land-based fibres is not practical due to land limits and potential impacts. Organisations that want to reduce their impact on raw materials are advised to close the loop by recycling fibres from textile waste and using preferred materials for each fibre category. 

Low-carbon choices are available for each category of fibre, one of them being mechanically recycled cotton. With 23% of the global fibre market, cotton is the most extensively used natural fibre and the second most widely used fibre in the textile industry. Controlling planting density, dosing fertiliser, purchasing high-yielding seedlings, and updating ginning equipment to boost yields are all essential for ensuring low-carbon qualities.

Chemically and mechanically recycled PET made from used plastic bottles are two more low-carbon solutions your company can consider. 52% of the volume produced in the global fibre market is made up of polyester (PET), and PET bottles that have been mechanically recycled provide around 99% of the recycled polyester used in the textile sector. Emissions from PET recycling can be reduced by 27% when PET is mechanically recycled. Emissions can be lowered by 5–27% by switching from virgin PET to chemically recycled PET. To significantly reduce emissions, a company needs to improve recycling infrastructure, reach a wider audience for recycling technology suppliers, and invest in automated sorting technologies.

Footwear industry

The most significant stages of the footwear lifecycle are extraction, processing, manufacturing, assembly, packing, transportation, and disposal. The bulk of the effect of footwear is attributed to manufacturing (43%), raw material extraction (20%), and assembly (20%), with transportation contributing just 2.5% of the total impact. 

Material-based impact

Despite making up only 25% of all shoes produced, leather shoes have a 34% influence on climate change. The global influence of the footwear industry on climate change is attributed to textile shoes at 16% and synthetic shoes at 50%.

Planning your carbon inventory

The industry’s overall carbon footprint should give you an idea of what could be the most impactful phases of your production process. However, the exact numbers will depend on many business decisions you’ve made, such as your supply chain structure, where you buy materials, which materials you use, and the techniques you use in dyeing, to name a few. Let’s look at the carbon emissions breakdown of some of the biggest industry players to see how to start your carbon inventory.

Patagonia, for instance, categorised its 2023 emissions as owned and operated (Scope 1 + Scope 2), employee travel (Scope 3), transportation (Scope 3), finished goods manufacturing (Scope 3), and raw material manufacturing (Scope 3). Raw material manufacturing is the most prominent category accounting for 89.5% of total emissions, followed by transportation (6.7%),  owned and operated (1.8%), finished goods manufacturing (1.7%), and employee travel (0.3%). 

Finisterre, for instance, categorised its 2023 emissions as materials (76%), transport + distribution (6%), supplier site consumption (5%), packaging (5%), commuting (4%), business travel (2%), warehouse site consumption (1%), end of life of sold products (1%), and <1% procurement, store site consumption, digital footprint, and homeworking + office site construction.

Vaude, for instance, categorised its 2022 emissions predominantly following the GHG Protocol categories. The majority of emissions came from purchased goods and services (86.5%), followed by transport and distribution (9.68%),  employee commute (1.59%), fuel and energy-related emissions (0.91%), and mobile combustion (0.86%), with use of sold goods, business travel, produced waste, and stationary combustions representing the remaining share.  

If you look at the three footprints represented above, you can start seeing some patterns. You should expect the majority of your footprint to come from purchased materials and their extraction and manufacturing which will be followed by emissions that come from transportation and distribution. The rest of the footprint will likely depend on your business model and categorisation of the remaining activities. 

What to do about the emissions

IPCC report prioritises decarbonisation in the fashion industry while highlighting the pressing need for businesses and governments to transition to the net- or near-zero emissions. To ensure that your suppliers uphold strict labour and environmental standards, your business should engage with them, offer incentives and resources, and monitor the supply chain. The biggest reduction results are expected from brands and retail shops within their own operations and then later on within their upstream and downstream value chain. Your company can affect both suppliers (expected reductions of 60%), operations (expected reductions of 20%), and consumption patterns (expected reductions of 20%).  

Maximising decarbonisation

Recycling and circularity initiatives can have far less beneficial effects on the environment than you realise as they may present the company as more environmentally conscious, where in reality it has not taken the necessary steps that could maximise decarbonisation.   For instance, the abrasive process of mechanical recycling results in weaker and less quality recycled polyester fibers than virgin polyester fibres. The potential of fibre recycling is hindered by several problems, such as scattered infrastructure, lack of access to high-quality feedstock, the decline in quality of recycled materials, complicated material mixes, the rapid rise in fashion consumption, and the vested interest of petrochemical giants in preserving the status quo of virgin fibre manufacturing, restricting the potential of fibre recycling. 

Process improvement

Your company can reach a high decarbonisation potential (43%) by focusing on production and process efficiency improvements of knitting, weaving, and spinning, shifting away from wet to dry processing, and changing fossil fuels with renewable energy in the operations and throughout the supply chains. If you’re considering which parts of your operation to electrify first, you should prioritise introducing renewable energy and energy efficiency initiatives into dyeing and finishing, fiber production, yarn preparation, fabric preparation, and assembly phases. 

Business model innovation 

Incorporating circularity concepts into products and improving the traceability of raw materials can help your company build consumer trust, enhance brand value, and better position yourself. In addition, you can achieve the second biggest decarbonisation impact by incorporating circular business models and planning production to avoid overproducing which would, in turn, reduce waste. McKinsey found that by adopting circular business models, the industry could reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by almost 143 million tonnes by 2030. 

Designing for sustainability

When planning the product portfolio, brands can use the opportunity to design with sustainability in mind. Ensuring sustainability from the very beginning of product conceptualization and taking into account a garment’s whole life cycle can lead to major improvements throughout the value chain and reduce impacts at the source.

Consumer engagement

Since fashion is a means of self-expression, consumers are becoming more and more interested in a product’s sustainability claims and credentials. Your company can further decarbonise its operations if you invest in engaging consumers by educating them to better care for products, and wash and dry them less often.  

UN Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action best practices

Let’s look at how the 42 signatories of the UN’s Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action approach decarbonisation and what actions they’re taking to reduce Scope 1, Scope 2, and Scope 3. The most commonly stated reduction of Scope 1 and 2 emissions by signatories came from the use of renewable energy. Additional actions included prioritising energy efficiency, modernising company-owned or managed vehicle fleets and logistics, and utilising renewable heating sources. More specifically, the companies installed light-emitting diodes, automated the production process and controlled facility air conditioning, installed solar and wind farms, power purchase agreements, installed electric cars and shuttles, obtained green gases and electrification for heating.

The most often stated reduction of Scope 3 emissions by signatories was the sourcing of priority materials. Prioritised decarbonisation measures included monitoring the energy consumption of factories and efficient supply chains, increasing the percentage of suppliers that use green electricity and renewable energy across supply chains, shifting to sustainable cotton and renewable polyester, developing and collaborating on plans with suppliers to achieve science-based targets, monitoring suppliers’ phase-out progress, decreasing air freight, shipping products with zero emissions, using biofuels, optimising transportation initiatives. Several companies disclosed measures related to corporate travel and employee commutes, along with recycling and circularity.

The main challenges were lack of direct asset ownership, supplier commitment or capability, and technological viability.


To reduce emissions, you should focus on introducing energy efficiency and supplier engagement initiatives, transforming operations to include the use of green energy, and influencing consumption patterns. Choose materials and fibers that bring environmental or social improvements. Prioritise initiatives that maximise decarbonisation. Rely on best practices from industry players that have done it already. 

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