Are the garments you don ascribed to a low-carbon ethos? An in-depth examination of the carbon footprint associated with the textile and apparel industry

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Among numerous exhibitors, Lanjing Group's zero-carbon environmentally friendly products provide downstream businesses in the industry chain with high-quality choices to practice sustainable fashion. More than 50 domestic and international brands, including Zara, Uniqlo, Levis, Anta, Li-Ning, and Taiping Bird, have incorporated Lanjing's Zero Carbon Tencel™ series into their ready-to-wear clothing. So why do these major brands choose to collaborate with Lanjing? The reason is closely intertwined with their ambitions to achieve carbon neutrality.

For leading companies in the textile and apparel industry, especially brand enterprises that directly engage with consumers, greenhouse gas emissions attributed to the supply chain frequently constitute a significant proportion of their overall emissions [1].

Therefore, decarbonizing the supply chain is crucial for these brand companies to effectively fulfill their carbon neutrality commitments. This also explains why major brands, including Nike, have implemented supplier climate action programs (for more details, see "The Mandatory Path to Corporate Low-Carbon Development - A Closer Look at Nike's Approach").

The distribution chart of the carbon footprint in the textile and apparel industry supply chain.

However, the green and low-carbon transformation of the textile and clothing industry is still in its developmental stages. Most textile and accessories exhibitors at the trade show have expressed that although downstream customers have been making demands related to product carbon footprint certification, their understanding of carbon footprint calculation and certification for textile products is quite limited due to a lack of relevant knowledge. In the following section, we will discuss key points about carbon footprints that businesses in the textile and clothing industry should be aware of.

01.What is a carbon footprint?

The concept of "Carbon Footprint" originated from the "Ecological Footprint" and refers to the total greenhouse gas emissions generated by "individuals, activities, organizations, services, locations, or products," represented in terms of carbon dioxide equivalents [2]. For individuals, daily actions such as driving or taking public transportation to work contribute to their carbon footprint. For businesses, the carbon footprint of an "enterprise (organization)," "product," or "activity" has received the highest level of attention in recent years. In the textile and clothing industry, the most widely used concept is Product Carbon Footprint (PCF).

The term "Product Carbon Footprint (PCF)" refers to the total greenhouse gas emissions produced by a product throughout its entire lifecycle, encompassing stages such as "raw material extraction, processing, production, transportation, distribution, product use, and final disposal."

Using the example of a Xinjiang cotton T-shirt's carbon footprint, if we calculate its carbon footprint from "cradle to gate," we need to account for the direct or indirect carbon dioxide equivalent emissions generated during raw material acquisition, processing, and manufacturing stages. This approach is currently widely used in the textile and clothing industry for product carbon footprint calculations. If we want to calculate its carbon footprint from "cradle to grave," we must also include the transportation, distribution, use, and post-disposal phases of this garment, as shown in the diagram below.


The system boundary for calculating the full lifecycle carbon footprint of a Xinjiang cotton T-shirt.

02.What is a carbon footprint report

A "carbon footprint report" is typically a report commissioned by businesses that have carbon footprint certification requirements. This report is prepared by a third-party service provider to calculate and document the total amount of direct and indirect greenhouse gas emissions released throughout the lifecycle of a specific product, as illustrated in the diagram.

03.How to certify a carbon footprint

After receiving the carbon footprint report, "Carbon Footprint Certification" companies commission third-party service organizations with carbon footprint certification capabilities. These organizations assess the carbon footprint report according to internationally recognized evaluation standards and issue relevant certifications. The carbon footprint certification certificate, certified by TUV South Germany, obtained by Carbon Balance Tech for a specific product or service is shown in the following image. The following sections will also provide a brief overview of the calculation methods, standards, and key steps in carbon footprint assessment, aiming to offer professional background knowledge for personnel involved in corporate carbon management.

A carbon footprint certification certificate for a certain product.


  • The methodology for calculating carbon footprints

The foundation of carbon footprint calculation methodology lies in Life Cycle Assessment (LCA). LCA, as an evaluation tool, is primarily employed to assess and account for the entire life cycle process of products or services, encompassing energy consumption and environmental impacts from "cradle to grave," as demonstrated in the carbon footprint of a Xinjiang cotton T-shirt mentioned above.

  • Standards for calculating carbon footprints

Currently, there are three widely adopted international and domestic standards for calculating product carbon footprints: "ISO 14067: Quantification and Reporting of Greenhouse Gas Emissions for Products" (ISO, 2018), "PAS 2050:2011: Specification for the Assessment of the Life Cycle Greenhouse Gas Emissions of Goods and Services" (BSI, 2011), and "The Greenhouse Gas Protocol for Product Life Cycle Accounting and Reporting" (WRI, WBCSD, 2011).

International universally accepted standards for calculating product carbon footprints.

The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) developed the "ISO 14067 - Requirements and Guidelines for Quantification of Product Carbon Footprint" based on the PAS 2050 standard. The draft of this standard was released in October 2012, providing the fundamental requirements and guidance for calculating product carbon footprints. The official version was published in 2013 and is considered a more widely adopted standard. A revised edition was published in 2018. Since the publication of this standard, it has seen widespread use.

Ø "PAS 2050" is the world's first dedicated accounting standard for product carbon footprints. This standard primarily applies to products and services and was initially released in October 2008, with a revised edition introduced in 2011.

ØThe "GHG Protocol" is an open standard available to the public, developed in accordance with the life cycle assessment standard (ISO 14044) and finalized in 2012.

The standards "ISO 14067," "PAS 2050," and the "GHG Protocol" can be used in combination as needed or tailored to meet specific customer requirements.

  • The key steps in calculating carbon footprint.

As an example, consider the "ISO 14067 Product Carbon Footprint Quantification Requirements and Guidelines." ISO 14067 is developed based on the principles and framework outlined in ISO 14040, "Environmental Management - Life Cycle Assessment - Principles and Framework," and the requirements and guidelines for product life cycle assessment as specified in ISO 14044, "Environmental Management - Life Cycle Assessment - Requirements and Guidelines." The accounting steps are illustrated in the diagram below.

  • Steps for Calculating Product Carbon Footprint

PAS 2050" and the "GHG Protocol" have made some adjustments and modifications to the positioning and steps of life cycle assessment, while their fundamental requirements are largely the same.

05.What are the benefits for businesses of conducting product carbon footprint assessments

After analyzing the relevant knowledge points regarding carbon footprint calculations mentioned earlier, it becomes evident that conducting product carbon footprint assessments independently for businesses is no simple task. After all, calculating the product carbon footprint for a piece of clothing produced in-house requires not only knowing how much energy their factory consumes and how many greenhouse gases it emits but also understanding the origins of the cotton used in that clothing. After all, carbon footprint calculations must start from the cotton cultivation!

However, if businesses entrust this specialized task to professionals, product carbon footprint assessment is not a challenging feat. Companies can delegate the responsibility to third-party service providers with expertise in carbon footprint calculations, providing them with the necessary data and supporting materials based on an inventory. Moreover, it is a time-efficient process. With all the required information ready, Carbon Balance Technology can complete the product carbon footprint assessment within two weeks and obtain a certificate from a third-party authoritative institution. Finally, it is cost-effective. Standardized carbon footprint assessment platforms, when deployed for scalable services, significantly reduce the overall expenses for businesses.

Without a doubt, leading brands taking the initiative to implement green and low-carbon supply chain management have a forward-thinking and strategic significance. So, what are the necessity and benefits for upstream suppliers to respond to this and certify the carbon footprint of their supplied products?

We can consider three points:

(1) Addressing economic and policy pressures domestically and internationally, securing subsidies, and mitigating potential risks. In recent years, with China's "dual carbon" goals and a series of low-carbon policies, low-carbon transformation has become the textile and apparel industry's only choice for survival and development. By managing carbon emissions, companies not only meet environmental disclosure requirements but also qualify for policy incentives and support, such as subsidies and green loans. Furthermore, the increasing low-carbon compliance requirements in international trade pose significant challenges for export-oriented businesses. Obtaining carbon footprint certification can help companies mitigate potential risks in the foreign trade export process and gain a competitive edge in securing international orders.

(2) Uncovering emission reduction potential and boosting the green development of the industrial chain. Textile and apparel companies play a central role in carbon emissions along the industrial chain. Analyzing the carbon footprint allows companies to pinpoint carbon emissions throughout the product's entire lifecycle. This helps companies identify key areas with high energy consumption and carbon emissions, offering a solid foundation for setting emission reduction goals and specific measures. Consequently, this contributes to the green development of the entire industrial chain.

(3) Enhancing company image and strengthening brand reputation. Energy conservation, emission reduction, low-carbon certification, and green initiatives are essential steps in fulfilling corporate social responsibility and supporting sustainable development. Companies can incorporate product carbon footprint assessments as part of their long-term strategies, setting themselves apart from similar products in the market and aligning with the nation's green consumption initiatives. This can influence consumers to make environmentally-conscious purchases, ultimately enhancing the company's image and brand reputation.


[1] CDP,Transparency to transformation: A Chain Reaction