The company motto is “Be Human, Be Well, and Be Planet”, a harmonious ideal in line with the yoga world where sports clothing mega-brand lululemon got its start.
“We are deeply connected to ourselves, each other and our planet; each part elevating one another,” the Canada-based company says on its sustainability website.
But now a climate change campaign is targeting lululemon, saying its reliance on coal-powered factories in Asia is inconsistent with its public branding.
So far 477 yoga teachers and more than 500 yoga students across 28 countries have signed an open letter asking lululemon to source its products from factories using renewable energy.
“Burning coal to make hoodies and ‘Hotty Hot’ high-rise pants is unacceptable,” says one yoga teacher.
“The pollution from the production of lululemon’s apparel is a threat both to human health and climate change,” writes another.
Among the yoga teachers signing the letter are current and former ambassadors that have helped the company grow to a multibillion-dollar-a-year behemoth by leading public classes inside lululemon stores.
But it is the contrast between the company’s branding and ethos, and its use of coal that endangers lives and drives the climate crisis, that has made it a prime target.
“They really stand out with a huge disconnect between what they say they value and what they do,” said Laura Kelly, the head of campaigns at Action Speaks Louder, which is organising the campaign alongside North America-based Stand.earth.
“Almost half of the energy which powers lululemon factories comes from coal. But you would be hard pressed to find a company that says they are more ethical.
“Given lululemon’s influence in the market, it’s important for people buying their clothes to understand these two faces. The business has been built by taking a grassroots approach to their marketing and that was founded in the yoga community.”
Yoga teachers from the US, Europe, UK and Australia are among the signatories of the open letter. The South Australian yoga teacher and current lululemon ambassador, Prasanna Djukanovic, is among them.
He said: “Yoga teachers and students are consciously siding with the planet. lululemon need to lead in response to the climate crisis and reduce the harm their products are doing.”
Lululemon has a target to cut greenhouse gas emissions from the facilities it owns and operates by 60% by 2030.
According to disclosures made last year to CDP – an organisation allowing companies to record details on climate targets – lululemon was responsible for emitting 20,374 tonnes of CO2-equivalent through activities it could directly control.
But these were massively outweighed by the 381,797 tonnes of CO2e from the company’s supply chain – known as Scope 3 emissions.
The company has a target to cut these emissions per dollar of revenue by 60% by 2030, which means while emissions per dollar may go down, if revenue rises then actual emissions could go up.
A company report on its social and environmental impact released this week said its emissions per dollar had risen by 4% since 2018.
Earlier this month, the company reported expected net revenue of about US$7.9bn for this year with annual revenue growing at about 26%. The company says it is aiming to double revenue between 2021 and 2026.
The company told CDP most of its suppliers at fabric mills were in Taiwan and China “where electricity and energy are expensive and predominately fossil-fuel based,” the company wrote.
“Raw materials suppliers, in general, are higher energy consumers than finished goods suppliers because of the use of steam and hot water in dyeing processes,” the submission said.
The company, which employs 29,000 people directly and has 240,000 working for its suppliers, told CDP it had piloted initiatives focusing on energy efficiency, and said “opportunities also exist for our raw materials suppliers to switch from coal to natural gas, biomass and/or to renewable electricity (eg onsite solar).”
Good on You – an organisation that rates clothing brands on their environmental and social impacts – also says lululemon’s policies and practices are “not good enough”.
In 2019, the company launched an investigation after female workers at a factory in Bangladesh claimed they were beaten, forced to work overtime and were paid less in a month than the price of one pair of leggings.
In a statement, the company said it was focused on helping “create a garment industry that is sustainable and addresses the serious implications of climate change through goals and strategies that include a rapid transition to renewable energy and energy efficiency.”
The company report released this week was a sign of the company’s transparency in reaching goals, the statement said. The company was powering its own operations with 100% renewable energy and had cut emissions by 82% in its own operations.
The statement added: “We know that a majority of impact is in Scope 3 [greenhouse gas emissions], including industry supply chains, and we are committed to continuing to innovate across the supply chain and are actively working with industry partners to be a part of the solution.
“As members of the UN Fashion Charter for Climate Action and founding backers of the Apparel Impact Institute-led Fashion Climate Fund, we are working to accelerate collective climate action within our industry. We are also members of working groups engaging with select suppliers to phase out any direct use of coal, among other initiatives that drive transition to renewable energy.”