ZARA – How to reduce carbon footprint in fast-fashion, one of the most polluting industry in the world

Zara plans to achieve corporate social responsibility regarding climate change by 2020


ZARA operates in the fast-fashion industry which is both one of the industry which contributes the most to climate change – Eco Watch calls it “the 2nd dirtiest industry after Big Oil” [1] – and one of the industry which suffers the most from it. As Greenpeace journalist Shuk-Wah Chung says in her April 2016 online article “Fast fashion is drowning the world”, “Every piece of clothing we buy has had an impact on our planet before we even bring it home“ [2]. Fast fashion is an industry which damages the environment through multiple ways: over-consumption of raw materials –it requires 2,700 liters of water to make just one t-shirt, the amount of water an average person drinks over the course of 900 days! -, high utilization chemicals in the production process, high consumption of oil and gas in the delivery process and immense waste generation because of the nature of the consumption. “Each year 60 billion square meters of textile are left on the cutting room floor. Each year over 80 billion pieces of clothing are produced worldwide, and after its short lifespan, three out of four garments will end up in landfills or be incinerated. Only a quarter will be recycled.” [2] says Shuk-Wah.

The impact of the fast-fashion industry on climate change is all the more an urging issue as it creates a vicious circle by impacting the industry sustainability itself. Indeed, climate change threaten both the raw material availability and the production capabilities of the fast-fashion industry by introducing a high variability in supply and production prices which can hurt the brands’ sustainability in the future.


ZARA started recognizing this issue a decade ago and has since placed CSR at the center of its strategy. Inditex (ZARA’s mother company) 2015 annual report included an Environmental Sustainability Policy document which states ZARA’s objectives: “In the conduct of its business, Inditex integrates sustainable development criteria in all its business areas, ensuring an efficient management of human resources and an appropriate protection of the environment and the eco-systems.” [3] Since 2012, ZARA has committed to reduce its carbon footprint with the following target in mind:

  • Achieve Zero Discharge of undesired chemicals by 2020
  • Reduce by 15% the energetic intensity of own operations for each garment placed on the market
  • Decrease the use of energy in stores by 10% for each garment placed on the market
  • Make 100% of ZARA stores eco-friendly by 2020

Some iconic consumer-facing initiatives have been taken to address those effects.

The first one, called the “eco-store” aims to redesign ZARA stores in an eco-friendlier way. A flagship of this concept opened in New York in May 2016 (Illustration 1). An eco-store consumes 30% less energy and 50% less water compared to a traditional Zara store and qualifies for an official governmental certification.

The second one is the commitment to use recycled paper for its packaging with the campaign “Boxes with a Past”, currently 55% of online orders’ packaging (Illustration 2). Zara claims that this initiative avoids the felling of some “21.840 trees a year” [4] (Zara’s website).

The third one is the launch of its eco clothing line “Join Life” (Illustration 3) which used eco-friendly raw material and production techniques for women who “are looking for a more sustainable future”.

Finally, following H&M’s path, Zara has launched a recycling program for its customers and even picks up non-utilized clothes at customers’ home directly in Spain.



Illustration 1: Soho Flagship “Eco-store”


Illustration 2: “Boxes with a past” packaging


Illustration 3: “Join Life” eco-clothing line


ZARA’s effort to tackle climate change is a great first step and shows its ambition to make a difference in the world. However, there are some additional steps the company could consider taking to achieve its objective of preserving the ecosystem.

First, following H&M’s best practice, ZARA could place sustainability management alongside financial management so that each department feels more empowered to change rather than being frustrated by its impact targets. It would place CSR as a KPI for each of the company’s employee instead of keeping it a separated goal and could reduce the tension in the organization.

Secondly, following Patagonia’s example, ZARA could strengthen its commitment by aiming to register as a B Corporation, the equivalent of a Fair Trade certification to coffee to profit-driven organizations.

Finally, the real question that Zara should raise despite being contrary its value proposition is: should fast fashion encourage customers to keep their clothes longer and buy less? Patagonia has gone that far with its Worn Wear campaign which aims to reduce consumer’s consumption habits by increasing the utility time of its piece of clothing with longer lasting and repairable materials.

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[1] EW Contributor, “Fast Fashion Is the Second Dirtiest Industry in the World, Next to Big Oil”,, August 17, 2015

[2] Shuk-Wah Chung, “Fast fashion is “drowning” the world. We need a Fashion Revolution!”, greenpeace,org, April 21, 2016

[3] ZARA Annual Sustainability Report 2015

[4] website



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Student comments on ZARA – How to reduce carbon footprint in fast-fashion, one of the most polluting industry in the world

  1. Wow – I had no idea fast fashion was such a “dirty” industry! While it’s nice to see the company making sustainability more of a priority, given the risks involved I think Zara should start thinking about challenging their reliance on fast fashion. For example, I would love to see Zara introduce a premium-priced capsule collection of timeless, durable pieces. While I don’t expect that Zara would abandon its business model entirely, even shifting a small piece of its sales to “slower” items could go a long way.

  2. The extent to which fast-fashion contributes to climate change is astounding. The fact that only a quarter of garments will be recycled each year was particularly concerning to me, and I am glad to hear ZARA is trying to counter this offering to pick up non-utilized clothes at customers’ homes. I am curious what ZARA is doing with these recycled products – how they leverage these products to decrease their contribution to the climate change issue overall or increase their ability to give back to the community. Beyond these great ideas you put forward for ZARA to better tackle climate change moving forward, I wonder if they should make efforts to become more sustainable in terms of their energy usage – perhaps creating an initiative to leverage renewable energy, and ultimately replace their current energy sources. I worry that efforts to encourage customers to wear their clothes longer does not fit with the current ZARA value proposition. Perhaps to achieve that path they would need to adapt their model of trendy fast-fashion to focus on developing higher quality staples that you are willing to pay more for knowing they will last longer and contribute to addressing our world’s climate change problem.

  3. Having seen how popular Zara has become in emerging markets such as Indonesia and India, I was really interested to learn about the efforts that the company is taking to become more environmentally friendly. In a way, the very business model of the brand goes against sustainability, since they produce their clothes in bulk and ship them across the world on such a frequent basis, presumably creating a lot of waste and consuming a lot of energy. Perhaps they can consider tweaking the frequency with which they change their product offerings – maybe once every 3 weeks instead of 2 weeks. Even such incremental efforts could have a significant impact on energy usage and waste. Alternatively, they could have certain collections that change rapidly and some that stay on for a longer time period (e.g. for a whole season) Out of the other initiatives you mentioned, I think their recycling initiative is likely to be most effective given that a number of other brands have had success in this area (Patagonia, LL Bean, Nike, etc.). But I wonder – is it more effective to just reuse these fabrics by donating them or to recycle the fabric to use it in the production of new clothes? The former consumes less energy, but the latter might make more of a long-term impact.

  4. As other commenters have said, it is indeed shocking to learn about the climate impact of fast fashion. In addition to this, as consumers we often know that cheaper, low quality clothes are a false economy as they wear out very quickly. However it is often hard to resist the low prices that retailers entice you with. I love Sophie’s idea of a more durable clothing range, perhaps combined with Aparna’s suggestion of lengthening the time these “timeless” products are available, as this could reduce ZARA’s climate footprint whilst also creating better outcomes for consumers.

    I wonder whether Zara could also cut its products more efficiently in order to reduce the 60 billion square meters of textile are left on the cutting room floor each year. This would reduce environmental impact and cost. More broadly, there have to be innovative uses for such off cuts! Could you replace certain types of cushion stuffing? Use it for insulation? In cleaning aids? It would be exciting to investigate this further.

  5. Very insightful piece!

    As per your last point, the real question is really, how Zara and other fast fashion retailers can incentivise customers to wear clothing for longer periods and propose more sustainable use rather than just sustainable production, without severely harming its own business. In order to do that Zara would likely need to change its business model, focus more on quality and charge higher prices in order to make up lost revenue for fewer pieces sold. An alternative could be something Ronnie brought up in a comment to my Adidas post; if Zara and others continue to rely on “fast use” and high frequency purchases, they could at least try to actively promote recycle or reuse (through charitable organisations).

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