Lululemon’s Latest Impact Report Puts Pressure on Decarbonization

·3 min read

Lululemon’s leggings have captured hearts to the tune of $1.9 billion in quarterly revenues, but the company is still making room for improvement in its latest sustainable impact report.

“We have made tremendous progress across all three of our interconnected Impact Agenda pillars this year: Be Human, Be Well, and Be Planet,” Esther Speck, vice president and head of sustainable business and impact at Lululemon, told WWD. Speck highlighted the company’s full pay equity in the U.S. for the fifth year in a row and increased access to well-being resources, among other gains. She said the company is focused on furthering a rapid transition to renewable energy and energy efficiency.

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Under Lululemon’s Be Planet pillar, the company achieved an 82-percent absolute reduction in Scope 1 and 2 greenhouse gas emissions in its owned and operated facilities, exceeding its 60 percent reduction target. And, in 2021, Lululemon launched its “Like New” resale program in 82 stores across California and Texas.

The company, however, increased Scope 3 emissions (or indirect emissions, which weigh more heavily) by 4 percent last year signaling it is “off track” from its 2018 baseline. (More details were not provided on the plan to curb this impact).

Last year, Lululemon signed onto a coal phase-out program after joining the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to phase out the “direct use” of coal from owned and supplier sites. As part of a broader industry coalition, the company reported Vietnam facilities are undertaking a coal phase-out assessment (typically replacing coal-fired boilers with renewable or electric alternatives) with the intention to scale the program to additional facilities and regions. Lululemon confirmed this includes only one of its factories for now.

Even these efforts aren’t convincing activists like Stand.Earth, an organization with similar aims as Extinction Rebellion to motivate awareness on climate action, still plans to stage a yoga-themed protest dubbed “Yoga for Coal-Free Fashion” on Saturday outside Lululemon’s Vancouver headquarters to try and pressure corporate leaders to act urgently.

For fashion, sustainable material goals have taken off in recent years. Lululemon has a goal, as with others, to design its products with more “sustainable” materials by 2030. This means integrating higher yields of recycled or renewable inputs to outweigh the exhaustive virgin resource use.

The latest report found that together nylon and polyester accounted for 62 percent of Lululemon products in 2021 but only a fraction of that nylon — or 6 percent — was recycled in 2021. Asked how the company will make up for that in upcoming lines, Speck said the commitment is something Lululemon takes seriously. “As with any large-scale material transition, these transformations take a concerted effort across all of our supply chain vendors and manufacturing partners, and require time to build and scale.”

Even in instances where bio-based materials are already on the collab table (including partnerships with Genomatica in developing bio-based nylon or LanzaTech for recycled polyester), the yoga pants purveyor said it is exploring emerging textile-to-textile recycling technologies to support continued efforts.

On the social side, strong supplier relations are continued priorities as evidenced in latest initiatives.

In June, Lululemon was among the first to sign on to a novel $250 million climate impact fund established by the Apparel Impact Institute. This year, Lululemon participated in the Better Buying Purchasing Practices Index, which helps retailers and brands dig deeper on suppliers’ views of purchasing practices. Speck said the team just received the results from this year’s survey and “will discuss these with our suppliers at an upcoming summit to identify improvement potential and celebrate wins together.”

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