LONDON — Stella McCartney digs deep — into the soil and into the details of her company’s daily operations in an effort to reduce its impact on the environment.
One of the first in the industry to produce an annual environmental profit and loss account, McCartney has released its 2021 impact report, which shows the brand’s €3.1m damage to the planet, mainly from greenhouse gas emissions and land use.
McCartney uses the 2021 Impact Report as a platform to highlight the company’s shortcomings, tout its progress and unveil new changes aimed at combating the climate and biodiversity crises facing the planet.
“I’m incredibly proud of the actions we’ve taken, the positive changes we’ve implemented and the innovations we’re supporting right now, but there’s still 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.
In the report, McCartney quotes his friend Thomas Friedman, pointing out that, like most companies, his relies on “free goods and services” from nature such as clean air, fresh water, climate regulation and natural flood defenses that are not easily valued — and they are often ignored.
The report points out that the figure of €3.1 million for 2021 is significantly lower than in previous years, but urges readers not to attach too much importance to the figure. In 2020, it recorded a negative effect of 5.3 million euros.
He says the improved quality and quantity of data from direct operations and more refined methodologies mean it is difficult to compare 2021 with past years.
Stella McCartney Ltd., which now counts LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton as a minority partner and used a new, customized methodology developed by PwC to calculate its environmental impact.
The report also sheds light on the fashion industry as a whole and the economies that can be realized if brands are willing to invest money and work to improve the way they source, design and produce.
This shatters some assumptions, namely that veganism does not equal 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 highest carbon footprint due to the methane that is released as the sheep digest their food. The report adds that manufacturing, such as weaving, knitting and other fiber processing, also contributes a large share of emissions.
“We are constantly evaluating ways to reduce our product footprint, such as limiting the use of animal fibers in collections, encouraging recycled animal fibers where possible and implementing internal sourcing policies to encourage regeneratively grown materials,” the report said.
At Stella McCartney, animal fibers generate the largest percentage of greenhouse gas emissions, followed by artificial leather at 8.4 percent and vegetable fibers at 5.9 percent. The materials with the least impact are rubber, wood and paper.
In the report, the company highlights its use of organic cotton, which it says has a “significantly lower” environmental intensity compared to conventionally grown cotton. Organic cotton farming does not use chemicals, fertilizers or pesticides and requires less water. It also preserves soil quality and limits erosion.
Stella McCartney is increasing the use of organic cotton in her lines. In 2021, 78 percent of the cotton used in the brand’s products was from organic sources.
The company has placed a greater focus on “regenerative sourcing,” supporting farms and other suppliers that reduce their environmental impact and promote soil health, carbon sequestration and biodiversity.
The report also highlights how Stella McCartney uses alternative and recycled materials.
In 2021, Stella McCartney unveiled prototype clothing and handbags made from Mylo, a mushroom-based vegan alternative to animal skin. It has incorporated more recycled content into the Falabella bag, allowing the company to reduce its reliance on pure synthetic materials.
In July 2022, the Frayme Mylo bag, which is made entirely of mycelium, the networked roots of mushrooms, landed on the shop floor, with a ticket price of £1,995.
McCartney said the “mushroom bag” marked a turning point in her long-standing collaboration with California-based company Bolt Threads, and in the overall innovation of vegan material.
In recent years, she has worked with manufacturers and suppliers to create biodegradable fur coats from plant materials such as corn and to create eco-friendly stretch denim made with dyes from mushrooms and seaweed.
The company has been looking at the way it works internally and has set a goal to achieve net zero carbon emissions in its direct operations and throughout its supply chain by 2040 in line with 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 mostly from the fossil fuel energy needed to transport goods “from warehouses to retail spaces, wholesalers and customers, by road, rail and air.”
The company believes that the solution lies in better planning of product delivery times; the use of “more energy efficient” routes for the movement of 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.
And the packaging will get an overhaul with the removal of pallets; reduction of plastic packaging and replacement of single-use packaging and plastic.
According to the report, Stella McCartney’s UK stores and offices already run on 100 per cent renewable energy, while lights in stores, offices and shop windows are switched off every day from 10pm to further reduce consumption.
By 2030, the goal is to have all of its global stores, offices and warehouses running on renewable energy sources, according to the report.
The company admits it uses too much water.
The use of brass (for accessories) is one of the culprits, accounting for 71 percent of Stella McCartney’s impact on water pollution.
The company’s use of silk and associated mulberry cultivation and irrigation also draw water from the environment. The report states that silk production accounted for 74 percent of the company’s total water impact in 2021.
In an effort to reduce water consumption, Stella McCartney plans to increase consumption 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, and opt for recycled fibers instead of virgin.
The report highlights the importance of the circular economy, saying that Stella McCartney will do everything it can to prevent clothes, scraps and unused fabrics from ending up as waste.
The company said it is increasing its use of post-consumer recycled waste, “designing for disassembly” and focusing on single-material construction to make repairs and recycling faster and easier.
It also offers a global repair scheme in its stores; care instructions labels listed for each garment and partnership with resale platform RealReal in the US
None of this is cheap.
According to the company’s latest filings with Companies House, the UK’s official company registry, Stella McCartney Ltd. it reported losses of £32.7m on turnover of £32.5m in the 2021 financial year.
Turnover in the 12 months to 31 December 2021 grew by 14 per cent, while post-tax losses rose by 4.3 per cent compared to the previous year due to the COVID-19 disease and the costs of going concern.
Like many others, McCartney’s business ran into trouble in 2020 during the pandemic, with international travel and tourism grinding to a halt, brick-and-mortar stores closing and costs piling up.
In July 2020, the business started downsizing and restructuring. It has laid off staff, asked others to reduce their wages for extended periods, and scaled back certain activities with the goal of reducing the overall cost base.
McCartney did not pay herself a salary that year.
The brand’s president and CEO Gabriele Maggio told WWD at the time that “like 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 operations 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 that business through its Italian subsidiary, Stella McCartney Italia Srl. Among other changes, it also transferred the children’s clothing business to the license of 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 in 2021 represented the fashion industry at the 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 call for “coordinated action on climate change”.
The group is known as the Coalition of the Willing, and the 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, drive investment and create a lasting difference through incentives that support the next generation.”