In May this year, the Gucci Instagram handle carried a series of posts excerpted from Creative Director Alessandro Michele’s diary written during the pandemic, in which he evaluates his work, and the future of fashion. “These days of confinement, in a suspended time that we can hardly imagine as free,” Michele wrote, “I try to ask myself what is the meaning of my actions. It’s a vital and urgent questioning of me, which demands a careful pause and delicate listening.” A few days later, in another excerpt, he made a startling announcement: “I will abandon the worn-out ritual of seasonalities and shows to regain a new cadence, closer to my expressive call. We will meet just twice a year, to share the chapters of a new story… I would like to leave behind the paraphernalia of leitmotifs that colonised our prior world: cruise, pre-fall, spring-summer, fall-winter.” Gucci, as he announced, will be, going forward, cutting down the number of annual fashion shows it organises from five to two. It was a piece of news that stunned the world of fashion. Gucci was upending a tradition that went back decades.
Michele’s main reason for making this decision, a careful reading of his diary reveals, was his fears about climate change and a desire to work towards sustainability. “Our reckless actions have burned the house we live in,” he said in another post, “We conceived of ourselves as separated from nature, we felt cunning and almighty. We usurped nature. We dominated it and wounded it.” Though the Covid-19 pandemic might have been spurred into making the momentous decision, Michele has been tireless in his effort to promote to sustainability at Gucci, and the fashion world at large, since he took over as the Creative Director in 2015. Last year, for example, Gucci made history of sorts by turning its Spring/Summer 2020 fashion show entirely carbon-neutral. It even boasted of an ISO 20121 certification, an international standard that defines the sustainability of an event taking into consideration its environmental, social, and economic aspects.
The show, which was termed a Certified Sustainable Event, was carbon neutral. Its entire environmental impact was 100 per cent offsetted, meaning all the CO2 emission from the activities at the event, including transportation of the participants, catering, accommodation, printed materials, and energy consumption was compensated for by Gucci. The company planted 2,000 trees in the city of Milan to make up for the carbon impact of the people who participated in the show, including guests, models, suppliers, workers, press, and Gucci employees. Additionally, the event was 100 per cent plastic-free, and all the leftover food was sent to charities in the city. There was zero wastage. Then, in June this year, Michele unveiled Gucci O The Grid, the brand’s first collection from its Circular Lines initiative to support circular production. Circular fashion, or circular production, is a new-age term that refers to clothing made from sustainable materials, where the entire supply chain can be monitored for its effect on the environment, and where recycling and upcycling plays critical roles. Gucci says its vision for the future “is to move further and further away from fashion’s linear model and to a circular one, where circularity is not the exception to design and creation, but integrated as part of the process. A future where the beauty of old materials is celebrated in an everlasting cycle, and new natural resources are not a requisite for appeal and quality.
The 37-piece Gucci O The Grid collection including genderless sneakers, bags, accessories, and ready-to-wear were made using recycled, organic, bio-based and sustainably sourced materials. Notable among these are ECONYL, a 100 per cent regenerated nylon obtained from consumer waste like abandoned fishing nets and carpets, and nylon offcuts from Gucci’s production lines. Gucci was the first luxury brand to use ECONYL in 2016. Michele’s effort towards creating sustainable fashion is part of Gucci President & CEO Marco Bizzarri’s forceful drive to push his own company, and the fashion industry in general, towards carbon neutrality. The fashion industry is the second-largest consumer of the world’s water resources, and is responsible for around 10 per cent of the global greenhouse gas production. In November last year, Bizzarri issued a public announcement inviting CEOs from across the world to participate in a programme he called CEO Carbon Neutral Challenge. Companies from across sectors were asked to officially join the fight against climate change and greenhouse gas emissions. “The reality is that the majority of the GHG emissions linked to day-to-day business activities are created upstream in the supply chain,” Bizzarri said in his letter to them, “I firmly believe that we must all be accountable for these emissions and redefine corporate carbon neutrality to encompass the entire supply chain.”
Several companies have made commitments to become net carbon zero by 2040 and 2050, but Bizzarri is not happy. “Science is telling us that long-term targets are just not good enough and that we have 10 years to change the trajectory of climate and biodiversity crises. By 2040, I will be almost 80 years old. I do not want to leave this responsibility to my successor. I want to create a plan of action that brings serious results in the short term.” About 90 per cent of the greenhouse gas emissions for fashion companies are generated at the start of the supply chain. Soon after he arrived at Gucci as CEO in 2015, Bizzarri drew up a 10-year sustainability strategy for Gucci. Its ambitious target called for reducing the company’s total environmental impact by 40 per cent, and greenhouse gas emissions of its supply chain by 50 per cent before 2025.
As part of this eort, since 2017, Gucci has been publishing an annual Environmental Profit and Loss (EP&L) report that publicly reveals the environmental impact of the company’s operations. These impacts are measured across its entire supply chain, including GHG emissions, water use, air and water pollution, waste production, and land use. The company started implementing an EP&L for internal monitoring back in 2011, and was one of the first fashion brands to publish it externally. Gucci’s most recent EP&L shows that the company is on target to achieve its 2025 goal much earlier. By last year, it had already achieved a 39 per cent reduction in its overall environmental impact, and a 37 per cent reduction for greenhouse gas emissions. Compared to the 2018 EP&L, the emissions were down by 18 per cent and the total impact by 21 per cent. But importantly, Gucci has been carbon neutral since last year. The company achieved this feat by offsetting its remaining Greenhouse Gas (GHG) with investments in four REDD+ projects it has been involved, in Kenya, Peru, Indonesia, and Cambodia. REDD refers to reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, and REDD+ relates to conservation of forest carbon stocks, sustainable management of forests, and enhancement of forest carbon stocks. Companies that invest in the preservation of forests and its sustainable management are given carbon credits, which they can offset against their own GHG emissions. Gucci investment covers a forest area of more than 1.1 million hectares across the four countries.
Further, the company’s internal programme of reducing carbon footprint is based on the philosophy of avoiding and reducing environmental impact. For example, it plans to shift entirely to renewable energy in operations, stores, offices, and warehouses by the end of this year, and other. Similarly, the Gucci scrap-less program targets reducing the use of water and chemicals to treat leather and reduce the GHG emissions related to transport. Then there is the scale-up initiative around circularity, including the Gucci-Up program, which up-cycles leather and textile waste generated during manufacturing. On the raw material sourcing front, the eort has been to maximise recycling technologies such as switching to recycled plastics as an additional complement to Gucci’s ban on PVC since 2015, using recycled metals in accessories and jewellery, ramping up using of organic fibres, such as organic cotton and silk, ensuring that cellulosic fibres such as viscose are sourced from approved producers; finally to shift continually to low-impact and more sustainable alternative raw materials like ECONYL.
“A new era of corporate accountability is upon us, and we need to be diligent in taking all steps to mitigate our impacts, including being transparent and responsible for our GHG emissions across our supply chains,” Bizzarri says, “Gucci will continue to work in a smart and strategic way to avoid and reduce our impacts, while simultaneously investing in innovation as a driver for sustainability. However, in my view, this is just not enough, nor will it happen fast enough given the sustainability challenges we are up against in our industry and the reality of our global climate and biodiversity crises. To address the need for urgent solutions, Gucci is setting an ambitious new precedent through our carbon-neutral commitment. This is based on a clear strategy to ensure we account for all of our GHG emissions across our supply chain, act to first avoid, reduce and restore, and then oset the unavoidable emissions through important REDD+ projects.”