The French Government unveiled the first phase of its fashion sustainability rules in January, surpassing upcoming EU laws on eco-labelling. Avery Dennison's Debbie Shakespeare explains why all fashion companies should make the switch to digital product passports before it is widely enforced.
Retailers are required by the French Decree 2022-748 AGEC (Anti-Waste for a Circular Economy Law) to give customers comprehensive information about the environmental characteristics and sources of the products they buy.
The existing legislation applies to clothing retailers whose turnover exceeds EUR50m ($53.75m). Nevertheless, smaller enterprises will be gradually included in 2024 and 2025. It is expected that brands generating less than EUR10m in annual revenue will be exempt.
The French legislation addresses the product’s ability to be recycled, the textiles’ ability to be tracked, and the existence of plastic microfibres. The use of words like “eco-friendly” and “biodegradable” in product descriptions is prohibited. The information must be available in stores in a printed version, on labels, or as a product page online.
The fashion industry has been plagued by greenwashing in recent years, but this regulation aims to put an end to it by prohibiting ambiguous and false assertions. Certified data must back up sustainability claims, and materials must be traceable and trackable.
The law will require much more effective management of textile and packaging waste. According to McKinsey, Europe produces more than 15kg of textile waste per person annually, and at least one-fifth of this waste could become new clothing, making this type of legislation imperative.
The French Government’s proactive approach is a sign of what is to be expected in Europe and other parts of the world. The European Commission has proposed a mandatory extended producer responsibility (EPR) system for textiles to minimise waste from disposable fashion. To foster sustainability, harmonised EPR programmes and variable levies are expected to be implemented throughout the EU. The EU Strategy for Sustainable and Circular Textiles is part of a package of measures under a “Green Deal”. It lays out the vision and specific actions to ensure that, by 2030, textile products placed on the EU market are designed to be long-lasting and recyclable, made primarily from recycled fibres, free of hazardous substances, and produced with consideration for social rights and the environment.
Clothing companies will need to make it easier to track potentially dangerous substances across the supply chain. Possibly as soon as 2025 or 2026, the EU will implement a “Product Passport” that will allow consumers to monitor the components and origins of the goods they purchase via a digital trigger, such as a QR code or NFC tag.
Digital product passports are gaining traction in the US too. The proposed Fashioning Accountability and Building Real Institutional Change Act, often known as the Fabric Act, the New York Fashion Act, and California’s Senate Bill 62 are all examples of legislative reforms the US is undertaking. Retailers in the fashion industry will be increasingly accountable for adhering to standardised environmental and social due diligence procedures and may face penalties for non-compliance.
The UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) suggested that the government specify regulations on disclosing environmental information to customers. The CMA started investigating the advertising of eco-friendly products in January of last year to determine if customers were being misled. The review of environmental claims in the UK fashion retail sector is ongoing, and it has recently expanded its investigation to include household essentials.
Fashion supply networks are being closely examined as this wave of environmental legislation crests. Brands are looking for suppliers whose textiles and embellishments are long-lasting, simple to reprocess, and made in factories and farms that practice social responsibility and are fully transparent. Scope 1, 2, and 3 carbon emission reductions and stated sustainability goals will need to receive third-party approval as the new regulatory landscape increasingly develops. For instance, many fashion brands and suppliers, including Avery Dennison, have had their emissions reduction targets approved by the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi). This confirms stated goals are consistent with levels required to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement. For clothing manufacturers, compiling reliable information and connecting it to a garment will be game-changing. Transparency enables brands, consumers, ecosystem partners and regulatory bodies visibility into: responsible production, textile origin, product details and recycling streams.
It will move us beyond nebulous environmental promises like claiming “recycled material” on a clothes tag when only 15% of the textile used to make the garment is made from recycled fibres.
It is envisaged that retailers and brands will embrace circularity by introducing commercially viable re-use and repair services. Just two examples of companies launching “take-back” programmes designed to “close the loop” are Levi’s and H&M.
Today, money is being invested in large-scale textile recycling facilities. Next, we need to build the marketplace for recaptured materials, such as fibres and dyes, that can be used by brands as inputs into new products.
The most cutting-edge fashion firms are adopting widely available digital labelling technologies, while arranging their manufacturing and supply chain data so that consumers can access it via digital product passports (DPPs) stored on cloud platforms in order to prepare for these impending changes.
Consumers will have immediate access to the crucial data required to make responsible social and environmental decisions regarding their purchases. DPPs provide a full solution beyond compliance, they assist brands in managing their supply chains more effectively and enhance the consumer experience. When consumers scan QR codes with their smartphones, for instance, they can connect to an app, website, or cloud platform to interact with the business long after making their first clothing purchase.
Avery Dennison collaborates with the AAFA in the US and the CIRPASS panel in Europe to map out the best way to harness digital labelling and DPP technology in line with market and customer demands.
I’m certain that item-level ID programmes like DPPs will help educate and empower consumers on how to repair, reuse, and recycle their clothing. This will promote the use of secondary markets and encourage consumers to think carefully before making purchase decisions.
In 2021, the World Economic Forum identified the fashion industry and its supply chain as the world’s third-largest polluter. On average, it releases 10% of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions annually.
A new report from the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP27) reveals the emissions increased again in 2022, and currently the fashion industry is lagging on its goals to reduce emissions by 2030. Environmentalists are hopeful that incoming laws will kickstart much-needed action.
The ambitious new AGEC law in France may give some executives in the textile and retail industries sleepless nights, but if it sparks the sustainable and circular fashion revolution and promotes the shift to a low-carbon economy, overcoming challenges will be well worth it.
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By Just Style