The 2019 edition of Pulse of the Fashion Industry has revealed that ‘sustainable’ progress in the fashion industry has slowed by a third in the past year, and is not moving fast enough to counter-balance the fashion industry’s rapid growth. The report – published by Global Fashion Agenda (GFA), Boston Consulting Group and Sustainable Apparel Coalition – says that unless the current trend improves, fashion will continue to be a net contributor to climate change, thus increasing the risk that the Paris Climate Agreement’s objective of keeping global warming below 1.5°C during the remainder of this century will not be achieved.

The report utilises ‘The Pulse Score’, drawn from the SAC’s Higg Index, alongside interviews, a survey and a sounding board. GFA says it represents “a global baseline of sustainability management, target setting and implementation of sustainability initiatives within the fashion sector.” The Pulse Score of the fashion industry increased by only four points in 2019, from 38 to 42 (out of 100). In 2018, it increased from 32 to 38, meaning progress has slowed by a third.

Whilst this may not sound like the most drastic decrease, the pace of positive change does not match the projected growth of the fashion industry. By 2030, the global apparel and footwear industry is projected to have grown by 81 per cent, to 102 mn tonne, which GFA says will exert “an unprecedented strain on planetary resources.”

GFA notes that the fashion industry has made some progress toward better social and environmental performance over the past year, but at a slower rate than in years past. This is mainly due to rapid progress among brands that are in the early stages of their sustainability ‘transformation’. However, progress has slowed among larger companies, who the GFA says “must figure out how to scale disruptive business models and harness innovative technologies.”

In more positive news from the report, awareness of environmental and social practices is said to be growing among consumers. More than a third of surveyed consumers reported they have switched from their preferred brand to another for reasons related to responsible practices. However, the 2019 data also revealed that sustainability is still far from being a key consideration in purchasing decisions.

“These latest findings emphasize the dire need for the whole industry to join the race and accelerate change now,” said Morten Lehmann, Chief Sustainability Officer at Global Fashion Agenda. “Scaling existing solutions will depend on leadership from brands. However, some transformational changes will take cooperation among policy makers and stakeholders across the entire value chain,” he added.