Asos will target net-zero carbon emissions by 2030 and will aim to match the general population in gender and ethnic diversity among its leaders as the fast-fashion company responds to shoppers’ rising demand for ethical brands.
Fast fashion retailers have faced persistent criticisms from campaigners over the environmental footprint of cheap clothing that is treated as disposable by many customers. It is estimated that fashion accounts for about 10% of greenhouse gas emissions from human activity.
The broader sector has also struggled with social issues such as representation among bosses and alleged minimum wage violations against some of the workers who make the industry’s clothes.
Asos, which sells online only, said it would try to address “increasing demands from customers for greater choice in responsible fashion” with targets on emissions reductions, recycling, and worker representation.
Nick Beighton, the Asos chief executive, said the company had set “stretching ambitions”. Asos wanted to act “sustainably and responsibly” even as it seeks to grow rapidly across the world, he said.
Beighton said the sustainability targets would cause some marginal cost increases but predicted increased scale would make up for it thanks to more people being attracted to the brand.
The retailer said it would not produce any net carbon in its own operations by 2025, and it hopes to align its broader supply chain to the standard by 2030. Asos will then offset any remaining emissions from the products and services it buys.
It also said it would improve the “circularity” of its products, including using more sustainable or recycled materials in its own-brand products and packaging, designing clothing that can easily be recycled, and making it easier for customers to recycle clothes.
Primark, another leader in fast fashion, also this week said it would commit to making all its clothes recyclable by design by 2027. The retailer will also halve its carbon footprint by 2030, it said.
Increased circularity would help to reduce fashion’s impact on the planet further. A study by the Royal Society for Arts, Manufactures and Commerce found nearly half the products added to Asos, Boohoo, Missguided, and PrettyLittleThing over a fortnight were made entirely of new plastics such as polyester, acrylic, and nylon. Demand for virgin plastic helps to sustain the fossil fuel industry and eventually adds to waste.
Beighton acknowledged that Asos’s move was partly aimed at attracting more environment-conscious consumers, and also at increasing sales from existing customers.
“Customers will decide how much they want to put in their baskets,” he said. However, he added that super-cheap price points for some clothes may become “unattainable”.
On diversity targets, Asos said it would ensure 50% of managers at every level were women and 15% from ethnic minorities by 2030 – up from 42% and 7%. That would broadly match the UK population, in which 50.6% were women in 2019, and 14% were from ethnic minorities in 2018, according to the thinktank Diversity UK.
The retailer will also map its supply chains for own-brand clothing from finished item down to raw material level by 2030, it said. Asos was among the retailers that pulled sales of clothes from Boohoo last year after its fellow fast-fashion brand faced allegations of minimum wage violations hidden in factories in its supply chain in Leicester.
“The responsibility for a sustainable future lies with all of us and businesses must lead the way,” Beighton said.