How can a fashion brand make an immediate difference in the fight against climate change? Many designers are examining their footprint and tweaking their supply chains â€“ theyâ€™re using recycled materials, phasing out virgin synthetics, opting for lower-impact transport, and so on â€“ which is a positive start. But Chanel is looking beyond its atelier, beyond its borders, and beyond fashion. The French house has announced a new partnership with Sunrun, a leading solar company in the United States, to bring solar power to 30,000 low-income residents in California. Chanel will also invest in job training to support the installation of those solar systems; its total commitment is $35 million (ÂŁ27 million).
The brand is looking beyond its atelier, beyond its borders, and beyond fashion.
Â© Michel Dufour
The news comes in the wake of massive power shortages and rolling blackouts in California. During a record heat wave, residents who would normally crowd onto beaches or find relief in movie theatres, restaurants, and cooling centres â€“ most of which are closed or at limited capacity due to Covid-19 â€“ were staying home and blasting the air-conditioning. The spike in demand for electricity was enough to create the worst energy shortage in 20 years, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Solar power, on the other hand, can significantly reduce reliance on gas-fired power, especially in the summer months, and is unequivocally better for the planet. California already generates more solar power than any other state, but it relies on â€śreplacement powerâ€ť borrowed from other states in the form of gas to make up for the loss of solar power at night. The blackouts can be partly attributed to a shortage of that replacement power, but California is unwavering in its commitment to clean energy and hopes to eventually phase out fossil fuels entirely. As its utilities commission wrote to Governor Gavin Newsom: â€śClean energy and reliable energy are not contradictory goals.â€ť
Doubling down on solar feels particularly urgent in light of the stateâ€™s ongoing wildfires, which have burned through more than 2 million acres. The fires were caused by a combination of factors â€“ downed power lines, ongoing fire suppression, and human activity (for example, that gender-reveal party) â€“ but climate change plays a significant role, and solar power is one of the key solutions. Itâ€™s all connected: we burn fossil fuels like coal and oil, which release CO2 emissions (manufacturing, air travel, shipping, and livestock contribute the highest emissions), which are then trapped in the atmosphere. Trapped CO2 warms the planet and leads to the record-breaking temperatures weâ€™ve seen in California and other parts of the world. Those higher temperatures dry out the shrubs, grasses, and dead leaves in the forests, which are more prone to catch fire; a single spark can ignite a full-blown disaster.
The importance of clean energy canâ€™t be overstated, but it isnâ€™t like flipping a switch. A big part of Chanelâ€™s initiative is making solar power available and affordable to everyone. While monthly energy bills are lower with solar, the initial cost of installing the solar system is significant; depending on the size of your home, it can be in the thousands. â€śChanel strives for [excellence] in everything we create, the impact we have on our society, and our world at large,â€ť said Chanelâ€™s president and chief operating officer, John Galantic. â€śThis innovative partnership reflects the deep commitment of our house to reduce our impact on the environment, while also creating a positive social impact through an inclusive approach that will provide families with access to clean affordable power and the creation of jobs.â€ť
â€śChanelâ€™s investment will help disadvantaged communities gain access to clean, reliable solar energy,â€ť adds Lynn Jurich, cofounder and chief executive officer of Sunrun. â€śThis innovative approach to corporate social responsibility will make an impact today and hopefully become a model for other companies to invest in our planetâ€™s future.â€ť
The initiative is part of Chanelâ€™s new climate strategy, Mission 1.5Â°C, which lays out a plan for reducing the brandâ€™s carbon emissions across its entire value chain and to â€śaccelerate the transition to a more sustainable world.â€ť For the emissions it canâ€™t reduce â€“ an inevitability when youâ€™re creating new products â€“ Chanel has pledged to invest in nature-based solutions, like forest and mangrove restoration, which aid in carbon sequestration. As a colleague pointed out, perhaps Chanelâ€™s next move will be to integrate all of this into a campaign or show; instead of the mansard roofs of spring 2020, for instance, weâ€™ll see models walking along California rooftops lined with solar panels. A girl can dream!
This article was originally published on Vogue.com.
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