European regulations in the fashion industry in 2023

January 24, 2023

What fashion brands can do to prepare for 2023 legislations

The fashion industry is facing increasing legislative pressure. From Europe wide fashion regulations to country specific laws coming into effect this year, Europe is aiming for a complete overhaul of the industry by 2030 under the Strategy for Sustainable and Circular Textiles.

This article will explore the upcoming fashion legislations that are being developed by the European commission. You will learn what fashion brands and suppliers will be required to do in order to comply with the new regulations targeting the textile sector.

What we cover in this article:

  1. Strategy for Sustainable and Circular Textiles
  2. Ecodesign and Circularity for Sustainable Fashion
  3. Addressing microplastic pollution in textiles
  4. Certification of Carbon Removals Proposal
  5. Accurate, transparent impact measurements
  6. Avoiding greenwashing when communicating sustainability
  7. Avoiding greenwashing when communicating sustainability
  8. Corporate Sustainability Reporting
  9. Waste management legislation
  10. Export challenges: Waste shipment regulation
  11. The Transition Pathway for a Sustainable Fashion Ecosystem
  12. Support with new European Fashion Legislation Compliance

1. Strategy for Sustainable and Circular Textiles

The Strategy for Sustainable and Circular Textiles, was drafted earlier this year by the European Commission as part of the Green deal which aims to make Europe the first climate-neutral continent in the world by 2050, without damaging economic growth or livelihoods.

The focus on textiles comes as no surprise as the European consumption of textiles has, on average, the fourth highest impact on the environment and climate change, after food, housing and mobility. It is also the third highest area of consumption for water and land use, and fifth highest for the use of primary raw materials and greenhouse gas emissions.

The Sustainable Textile Strategy laid out in March 2022 includes key proposals such as design requirements that would ensure fashion items are longer-lasting, easier to repair and recycle and free of hazardous substances.

Another important aspect is the mandatory minimums for recycled content and so-called digital product passports containing information about an item’s sustainability credentials.

Alongside new design rules, brands will face tighter controls on greenwashing, greater disclosure requirements and more accountability for what happens to clothes that can’t be sold or are no longer wanted.

The commission’s vision for textiles is to create a greener, more competitive and resilient fashion sector that manufactures garments respecting social and environmental rights. The goal is to turn fast fashion into slow fashion and promote higher quality textiles.

2. Ecodesign and Circularity for Sustainable Fashion

Circularity is a key element of the sustainable textile strategy. Through the Circular Economy Action Plan, the European Commission aims to target how products are designed, promoting circular economy processes and encouraging sustainable consumption with the aim to ensure that waste is prevented and resources used are kept in the EU economy for as long as possible.

If you’re wondering what the exact requirements will be for more sustainable product design, The Ecodesign for Sustainable Products Regulation (ESPR) has been designed to clear those doubts. This set of regulations has been established to ensure that the majority of the products available on the EU market have a reduced impact on the environment across their entire lifecycle.

It is an expansion of the current Ecodesign Directive, aimed at significantly boosting its impact by widening the range of products covered and adding new sustainability requirements.

Nearly all physical goods sold within Europe may need to comply with requirements related to:

1. The product’s durability, recyclability, reusability, upgradability and reparability, as well as its recycled content;
2. Energy and resource use and efficiency of the product, based on a life cycle assessment;
3. Carbon and environmental footprints, based on a life cycle assessment;
4. The presence of substances of concern in the product which could limit its circularity;
5. Information requirements to improve transparency, including via a Digital Product Passport.

How to include all these product specifications you might ask? The new Digital Product Passport (DPP) is the answer. The DPP will provide information about products’ environmental sustainability alongside enhancing their traceability. Its aim is to help consumers and businesses make informed choices when purchasing products, facilitate repairs and recycling and improve transparency about products’ life cycle impacts on the environment. The product passport should also help public authorities to better perform checks and controls.

At Sustainable Brand Platform we provide Product iD Cards that allow brands to showcase their impacts comprehensively, in an effort to facilitate the communication of company wide and product specific sustainability data. Through QR codes and mini-sites, we aim to facilitate access to comprehensive data that’s easily understood by consumers.

Product iD Card powered by Sustainable Brand Platform

Another design aspect affecting the environmental performance of textiles is the presence of chemicals of concern that hamper the recycling of textile waste. To minimise and track the presence of substances of concern and to reduce the adverse impacts on climate and the environment, the EU commission developed the Safe and Sustainable-by-Design Framework (SSbD).

This strategy, which is expected to be finalised in May 2023, was developed in order to accelerate the uptake of alternative and more intrinsically safe and sustainable chemical products and technologies across the EU. The document’s research and development guidelines involve a pre-market design approach consisting of two parts:

1. A set of criteria to support the design of safe and sustainable solutions for the use of chemicals;
2. A five-step assessment that assigns an SSbD score to a given substance, based on its safety and sustainability aspects.

The key message conveyed by the framework is that, while the use of chemicals may be required in certain industrial activities, their use should be minimised wherever possible, and overall safety and sustainability should be top of mind in these processes.

3. Addressing microplastic pollution in textiles

Another concern within the fashion industry is the increased use of synthetics, which now represent over two-thirds of all materials used in textiles. One of the risks linked to fossil-based synthetic fibres is the release of microplastics into the environment along their life cycle.

With this in mind, a proposal on tackling microplastics is expected to be published by the commission towards the end of the year, with a focus on improving the science on the risks and occurrence of microplastics and reducing environmental pollution and potential health risks, while encouraging competitiveness and innovation.

4. Certification of Carbon Removals Proposal

With 1.2 billion tonnes of carbon emissions released by the fashion industry every year, reducing emissions is a major concern for many brands. Last November, The European commission proposed a Certification of Carbon Removals to certify carbon removals within the European Union, including rules for monitoring, reporting and verifying the authenticity of these removals.

As carbon offsetting becomes more widespread, it can spark doubts on its reliability and trustworthiness, perhaps you have been looking into turning your business carbon neutral, if that’s the case this proposed certification might be useful to guide you in this process.

The implementation of this certification framework will make it possible to provide financial incentives and facilitate funding from private and public sources. European organisations will be encouraged and supported in promoting carbon removal from the atmosphere through nature-based and technological solutions.

5. Accurate, transparent impact measurements

To outlaw greenwashing and the use of vague sustainability claims, the European Commission states that

“Companies making green claims should substantiate these against a standard methodology to assess their impact on the environment”.

Without a reliable, state of the art Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), companies are not able to properly track their impacts and work to improve their environmental performance. This results in costs for companies, lack of clarity for consumers and potentially a missed opportunity to promote truly sustainable products that are respectful of the environment. If you’re struggling with measuring your impacts in a way that’s accurate and trustworthy, look no further.

The European commission recommends the use of Environmental Footprint Methods such as the Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), one the most reliable, robust, ready for scale, and transparent methodologies.

This method allows the measurement and communication of a product’s environmental performance across its lifecycle, relying on scientifically sound assessment methods agreed at international level.

It covers various environmental impacts, including climate change, and impacts related to water, air, resources, land use and toxicity. Using LCA furthermore enables comparison of environmental performances between similar products and companies.

The commission insists that claims on the environmental performance of companies and products should be reliable, comparable and verifiable across the EU.

LCA impact categories

6. Avoiding greenwashing when communicating sustainability

Once impact measurement is underway, companies usually want to communicate their progress with consumers. This is currently regulated by the Unfair Commercial Practice Directive Guidelines (UCDP), which disincentives the sole use of generic terms such as ‘sustainable’ and advises companies to calculate the impact of a product across its entire lifecycle.

The new proposed directive on empowering consumers for the green transition includes restricting the use of terms such as sustainable, green and eco-friendly, only to products that have obtained verification through EU schemes such as the Eco Label or other officially recognised eco-labelling schemes in the Member States.

The directive mentions a total of 10 new banned commercial practices related to product obsolescence and greenwashing, a set of additional information requirements regarding commercial guarantees and introduces a product repairability score.

Once this directive is adopted, the EU Member States will have 2 years to translate the Directive in their national legislation. It is expected to come into force from 2026.

7. Corporate Sustainability Reporting

Beyond regulating consumer-facing sustainability communication, all companies listed on EU regulated markets, have to follow the non-financial reporting requirements that have been recently set out in the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD).

This initiative aims to standardise sustainability reporting, so that financial institutions, investors, and the general public can access comparable and trustworthy sustainability data. The implementation deadline for small and medium-sized companies will be the 2026 financial year.

Furthermore, on the topic of non-financial disclosure, the European commission at the beginning of last year proposed a Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive. This new set of rules has been drafted to foster sustainable and responsible corporate behaviour and to put human rights and environmental considerations at the forefront of companies’ operations.

This directive goes beyond simple accountability for a brand’s internal operations as it plans to make it mandatory for large companies to prevent, monitor and solve any social or environmental issues found across their global value chain, including the practices of third-country partners and suppliers.

8. Waste management legislation

The fashion industry is also responsible for huge amounts of waste, with an average of about 11 kg of textiles per person per year being discarded in Europe only. Perhaps waste management is something that you’re looking into but are unsure of where to start?

If that’s the case, in the second quarter of this year, the Waste Framework Directive proposal will be released, addressing “extended producer responsibility (EPR),” recycling and waste prevention. Under EPR, companies pay a fee for each garment they sell which goes toward recycling and disposal costs.

Under this proposal, it would be mandatory for companies to publicly disclose the number of goods being discarded or destroyed as well as the treatment given to the waste generated in this process. A ban on the destruction of unsold or returned textiles is likely also considered according to the European Commission, depending on the outcomes of this transparency policy.

Extending the producer’s responsibility means making manufacturers accountable for the entire lifecycle of a product, including when it becomes waste. In addition to the existing fashion legislation, which requires member states to implement the separate collection of textile waste by 1st January 2025, these initiatives should stimulate the growth of a circular economy, minimising the industry’s environmental impact.

9. Export challenges: Waste shipment regulation

Sustainable waste management is a priority for the European Commission. So far huge amounts of textile waste have been exported to countries in the global south that often lack the appropriate infrastructure to effectively deal with such volumes. The new waste shipment regulation will make it easier to transport waste for recycling and reuse in the EU with the aim to reduce the amount that is being exported.

Under this proposed fashion regulation, operators would only be allowed to export textile waste to countries with proven capability to sustainably handle these materials and who are expressing an interest in receiving them.

10. The Transition Pathway for a Sustainable Fashion Ecosystem

The sustainable textiles strategy highlights the need to accelerate the green and digital transitions within fashion, this requires cooperation between industry, public authorities, social partners and other stakeholders.

To facilitate this, the Transition Pathway will be launched in March 2023. This platform will allow organisations in the industry to engage in discussions with the European Commission to develop a common vision for the future of the textile ecosystem.

11. Support with new European Fashion Legislation Compliance

These upcoming and new fashion regulations might seem challenging to meet for many fashion brands, but with the right support, following these rules will help your brand be more sustainable and resilient in the long term.

It is also important to note that, with the exception of the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive, all the proposals mentioned still need to go through the legislative process, which means that the final legislation should be available between 2023 and 2024.

The Sustainability Success team of Sustainable Brand Platform is always here to help and support fashion brands and suppliers track, control and improve their sustainability practices, to ensure all operations comply with the latest fashion regulations.

Ready to start? Reach out to us!

Gaia Rattazzi
Gaia is a content creator from Italy and former SBP team member. She passionately advocates for sustainable and ethical fashion and writes for several fashion industry-related media with a solution-focused approach.

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