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PRACTICE WHAT YOU PREACH:OPEN LETTER TO LULULEMON

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Dear Martha Morfitt, Chair of the Board, lululemon,

As yoga teachers, we ask lululemon to commit to phase out coal and source 100 percent renewable energy across its supply chain.

lululemon is one of the largest, fastest growing and most profitable fitness apparel brands in the world.

lululemon’s marketing claims its clothes are ‘designed by yogis’ and offers connection to a global community of mindfulness practitioners, sporting leaders and health and wellness professionals.

Yet almost half of the energy powering lululemon factories comes from burning coal.

lululemon’s reliance on coal as a source of energy is extremely harmful to people and the environment, particularly in countries like Vietnam, Cambodia, China, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh, where its products are made.

Fossil fuels like coal cause dangerous climate change and air pollution that is responsible for the deaths of millions of people around the world each year. Nearly one in five premature deaths globally are attributed to air pollution that’s caused by fossil fuels, according to a 2018 Harvard study.

lululemon’s current climate commitments fail to adequately address its pollution. In fact, its total GHG emissions are increasing due to the company’s rapid growth. In order for the company to meet the Paris agreement targets, lululemon has to take immediate action to phase out coal and other fossil fuels from its supply chain.

lululemon: Please commit to immediately phase out coal and source 100 percent renewable energy such as solar and wind for your factories and across your supply chain.

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FAQS

What is the goal of the Open Letter to lululemon?

lululemon has built its brand and loyal customer-base off the back of yoga. The company claims to be a ‘mindful movement’ and has leveraged the yoga community in its marketing campaigns by engaging instructors as brand ambassadors and offering free yoga classes around the world. Yet lululemon makes its yoga products using fossil fuels that cause global warming and damage the health of local communities.  Remarkably, almost half of the energy powering lululemon factories still comes from burning coal, the largest driver of the climate crisis. The Open Letter from yoga instructors and students around the world demonstrates to lululemon that its customers know about the brand’s harmful climate footprint and are demanding that lululemon does better. Specifically, the Open Letter calls on lululemon to commit to phasing out coal and other fossil fuels and sourcing 100 percent renewable energy across its supply chain, in line with the Paris climate agreement and the goal of keeping global warming well below 2 degrees.

Who is behind the Open Letter?

Hundreds of yoga instructors from around the world have signed the Open Letter addressed to lululemon, calling on the brand to phase out coal and other fossil fuels and source 100 percent renewable energy across its supply chain. A significant number of the yoga teacher and student signatories come from those countries where lululemon does the most business; the USA, Australia, the UK, Germany and France, among others. Two climate change campaigning organisations are coordinating the Open Letter from yoga instructors; Action Speaks Louder and Stand Earth. Action Speaks Louder is a global community taking action to hold companies accountable for their climate change promises, and their campaigners are also part of the yoga community. Stand Earth challenges corporations and governments to treat people and the environment with respect, because our lives depend on it.

How could lululemon go 100% RE?

Fashion brands like lululemon are able to make huge profits by offshoring their production to lower income countries like Vietnam, Cambodia, China, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh where labor and materials are cheap. This also means offshoring their greenhouse gas emissions and environmental impact. Yet there is a pathway for companies like lululemon to use more clean energy and clean up the electricity grids it’s hooked into. For powering its supply chain, lululemon can work with its factories to set up renewable electricity projects either on-site at the factory that deliver electricity directly to the manufacturer, or off-site and feed into the electricity grid. In countries where investment and infrastructure are still needed, lululemon can work with governments and utility companies to support the development of on-and-off-site renewables.  Corporate demand for renewable electricity is now one the largest drivers of new renewable electricity generation in many markets. Fashion companies like lululemon play an important role in the economies of lower income countries and have a big opportunity to positively influence the transition to renewable electricity on a large scale. Another big use of fossil fuels in lululemon’s supply chain comes from burning coal to boil huge tanks of water for dyeing and finishing fabric – one of the most emissions-intensive stages of the fashion supply chain. There are solutions here as well. lululemon can follow the lead of its competitors like Adidas and PUMA to replace coal-fired boilers, or Asics to eliminate on-site coal burning at many of its facilities, or Nike to replace thermal fossil fuel boiler systems with electrified boilers as well as switch to dry processing that removes the need for boiling water with coal.   lululemon has the power, profits and prominence needed to transform its own supply chain away from fossil fuels, positively influence the wider fashion industry and help drive the clean energy transition in producer countries.

But lululemon says they are reducing their greenhouse gas emissions.

Lululemon claims to have an emissions reduction target of 60% of greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. But if you look at the fine print, you’ll see a major loophole.

The company has adopted an ‘intensity-based’ target for its supply chain. That means it’s only committed to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions per unit of production. It is becoming more ‘pollution efficient’, so that when it expands to sell more products, its overall fossil fuel use will still increase.

Compare this to other activewear brands, like Asic and Mammut, who have made commitments to reduce their total greenhouse gas emissions, and Lululemon starts to look dirty and unhealthy.

What about the problem of petroleum-based synthetic fabrics in their products?

More than 60% of lululemon’s products are made of synthetic materials like nylon and polyester, which are derived from fossil fuels like oil and gas and produced using greenhouse-gas emitting processes, and ultimately contribute to waste and pollution including microplastics.

So when we write “lululemon has to take immediate action to phase out coal and other fossil fuels from its supply chain” it’s both about renewable energy and reducing the total emissions from its materials use.

While lululemon has announced targets to source 75% ‘sustainable materials’, this target is vague and misleading. A big problem is the company’s plan to use recycled polyester made from plastic bottles. This is an ‘open-loop’ recycling system, meaning once the bottles become leggings, they aren’t recycled again and the leggings most likely end up as waste. These plastic bottles could otherwise have been recycled into plastic bottles over and over again in an ‘closed-loop’ system. So using plastic bottles to make polyester clothes is not really a ‘sustainable’ solution.

What lululemon should be doing is recycling the textile waste generated by its own products into new products, in a closed-loop system, as well as developing truly sustainable business models that don’t depend on overproduction and consumption and the emissions and waste that this causes.

In September, lululemon published its second annual Impact Report. Has lululemon addressed these concerns?

Not only are lululemon’s current climate commitments not good enough, but the company is not even on track to meet these weak commitments, with total emissions actually increasing in 2021.

lululemon’s 2021 Impact Report shows the company is polluting more greenhouse gas emissions than before.

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In the last year between 2020 and 2021, lululemon increased its total emissions by 55%, taking its total from 414,565 tons of CO2 equivalent, to 643,478 tons.

Worse, total emissions in 2021 increased by almost 100% – or 317,364 tons – since 2018, the ‘baseline’ year against which lululemon sets its climate targets.

This big increase means lululemon is way off-track to meet its already weak ‘intensity-based’ emissions reduction target of 60% per $ of revenue by 2030. The last year saw lululemon actually increase emissions per $ of revenue by 9% since 2020, and by 4% compared to the 2018 benchmark.

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While lululemon has a target to achieve 100% renewable electricity in ‘owned and operated’ facilities, it’s doing so with energy certificates and just one power purchase agreement, which is a weak solution and does not amount to real change in the company’s operations.

These ‘owned and operated’ facilities also represent just 0.03% of the company’s total emissions. The other 99.7% is taking place along the supply chain, where the fabric is made and the products are assembled. This is where lululemon’s emissions actually come from, and why we are calling on the company to commit to phasing out coal and sourcing 100% renewable energy across its supply chain.

 

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