Interview with the Sustainable Fashion Academy: Cleaning up the Apparel Industry Through Climate Policy and Incentives

The textiles industry currently produces up to 3.29 gigatons of carbon dioxide emissions yearly – 2-8% of emissions worldwide. To curb climate change and meet ambitious EU targets to cut greenhouse gases by 50% throughout their value chain, companies need to act now. 

But many organizations don’t know where to start. 

That’s where initiatives like the Sustainable Fashion Academy (SFA) come in, offering companies the knowledge and tools they need to lead the transformation to a sustainable textile industry. 

SFA increasingly engages with EU policymakers to maximize impact. 

Our latest interview with Michael Schragger, SFA’s founder, gives key insights on: 

  • Why now is the time for the textile sector to engage with EU sustainability policy 
  • Why policy incentives are key to achieve sustainability in the industry 
  • Why stronger legislation is needed to protect the climate 

Ohana’s conversation with Michael is the latest in our series of interviews with organizations, industry associations and NGOs. 

Take a look at our Sympatex interview to learn how small players can get their voice heard in Brussels and our Policy Hub interview for tips on approaching the EU with a unified voice. For a deep dive into the importance of microfibres analysis in textile policy, read our interview with EOG & FESI on microplastics. Finally, check out our conversation with ChemSec to find out how companies can lead sustainability advances in EU chemicals policy. And watch this space… more interviews coming soon. 

Want someone with deep experience and connections in the EU to help you engage with public affairs for sustainability impact? Get in touch!

The Sustainable Fashion Academy and the Swedish Textile Initiative for Climate Change 

In 2008, Michael Schragger founded the Sustainable Fashion Academy, a mission-driven non-profit organization that aims to “ exponentially accelerate progress towards science-based sustainability targets and the Sustainable Development Goals by leveraging the power and the influence of the apparel industry.”

Michael says the SFA aims to “support a robust textiles industry that contributes positively to people and the planet.” 

They do this in 3 ways: 

  1. Identifying research needed for better strategic decision-making on sustainability
  2. Supporting and educating change agents in commercial companies, NGOs, research, and media 
  3. Mobilizing stakeholders around topics like climate action 

SFA has now created the Swedish Textile Initiative for Climate Change (STICA), which Michael describes as “a platform for SMEs to commit to science-informed targets, get help, reduce emissions, and engage with policy.” 

Engaging with EU policymakers 

Michael says that “working at the EU level offers the best chance of influencing the global industry.” 

He notes that while Sweden has been ahead of the EU with certain types of sustainability legislation, “making change at the national level has its limitations in a country that is part of the EU.” Furthermore, “affecting things at the EU level will have global impact.” 

Now that the EU has started prioritizing textiles with the EU Textile Strategy, the SFA and STICA have ramped up their work with Brussels. “We saw a great opportunity to engage,” Michael says. “This could be the best and only opportunity we have to utilize government action to change the apparel industry.” 

So how has the experience been? And how can other organizations get started with EU public affairs?  

Making says:

“We’re still at the beginning of the journey, but it’s been easier than I thought. There’s an open door at the moment: policymakers want to address the same issues we want to address.” 

But it’s critical to get advice from people who understand the EU policy landscape. Michael recommends working with “experts like Ohana to advise you so you’re not spinning your wheels or wasting time.” 

“We’ve been able to scale up quickly because we have that support around knowing who to contact, what’s going on, and how we should frame our messages.”

Key policy asks

Ambitious, transformative textiles policy 

Our aim in Brussels is twofold,” Michael says. 

“First, we want to ensure the legislation and policies are actually ambitious enough to address the scale of the problem. While policy is always about compromise, and it’s important not to let the perfect be the enemy of the good, just being good isn’t sufficient with the climate crisis we face. We need ambitious, science-based targets and action plans.”

Their second goal is to

“bring the perspective of what needs to happen for industries to really move. We need to create clear economic incentives that say to entrepreneurs and CEOs: this is where we have to go; it’s not a nice-to-have, the old business models are dead.”

Accelerating climate investment with strong incentives

Their asks for policymakers include a focus on climate as well as clear incentives and investment to make the transformation happen. 

Climate was missing a bit from the initial proposals for the Strategy for Sustainable Textiles,” says Michael. 

He feels that textiles policy can focus too much on fibre types at the expense of production processes, which is the most important thing for climate. Similarly, while green claims legislation and transparency are hugely important, “there shouldn’t be an assumption that these are sufficient to drive the transformation.” 

Policy on recycling, circularity and biodiversity is also important and necessary, but not sufficient alone,” he says. “We think climate is the window in.” 

To address climate change, “these companies need to make such a big transition that we have to think about how this transition is going to be financed.”

Michael is clear: “You can’t ask entrepreneurs or companies to do something they’re not incentivized to do.” 

He emphasizes the need for “economic incentives” that will allow companies to meet these demands as well as legislation to ensure “investments are made where emissions are actually taking place: in production companies.” 

International focus

Another piece of the puzzle, says Michael, is ensuring that environmental policy fully considers emissions outside of the EU. Initial proposals for the EU’s Fit for 55 package, which revises key climate, energy, and transport legislation to cut emissions by 55% by 2030, “only looks within the borders of the EU.”

SFA and STICA are calling for EU companies’ emissions accounting to include greenhouse gases that are released outside the EU within their value chain. ​​”There has to be a link with international actions,” Michael emphasizes. “It’s the only way to be serious about the impacts of the textiles industry.” 

Increased industry awareness of policy 

The only way to strengthen climate investment, industry incentives, and international emissions tracking is by engaging with policy. 

We’re watching many textiles industry organisations, like the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, realize how important policy is to change,” Michael says. “They’re recognizing that we can’t do this just through voluntary initiatives or our own might: we need to drive this transformation at a macro level.” 

And there’s now awareness among EU leaders that policy is essential to meeting climate targets.” 

Now is the time for textiles stakeholders to engage with EU policymakers to shape the legislation that will transform the apparel industry. Michael’s message is clear:

“If we don’t do it now, it won’t be implemented in time to make a difference. We need to translate climate policy into something that will transform our industry.” 

Want someone with deep experience and connections in the EU to help you engage with public affairs for sustainability impact? Get in touch!

Join our newsletter to keep up to date with the latest news and information coming out of the EU.