“No leathers, feathers, or fur.” That’s the Stella McCartney promise. It’s also an ethos that helped make 2015 its most profitable year to date, according to the British fashion label, which published its first global Environmental Profit & Loss Account this week. Despite laggardly growth in the United Kingdom, plus a 35 percent reduction in overall environmental impact of its materials over the past three years, Stella McCartney said it’s experiencing its best performance to date. The house credits its ecological strides, and the financial successes they have engendered, to its adoption of a process known as “natural capital accounting,” which places a monetary value on the impact of a company’s supply-chain operations. Developed by its owner, the luxury conglomerate Kering, the methodology has allowed Stella McCartney to “better manage the impact of [its] activities through product design, informed sourcing decisions, and manufacturing research and development,” it said in a statement.

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Progresses aside, Stella McCartney admits that it has much more work to do when it comes to reducing its overall environmental footprint, which it first began auditing in 2013.

Examining six major categories of environmental impact—greenhouse gas emissions,
air pollution, water pollution, water consumption, waste, and changes in ecosystem services
associated with land use—the brand estimates a net “loss” of €5.5m, or $8.4 million, for the 2015 calendar year.

Most of Stella McCartney’s impact stems from the raw materials stage, which contributed 57 percent of its total EP&L. Its own direct operations, on the other hand, accounted for only 10 percent.

Most of Stella McCartney’s impact stems from the raw materials stage, which contributed 57 percent of its total EP&L. Its own direct operations, on the other hand, accounted for only 10 percent.

“This imbalance of impact makes it clear that our primary focus need to be our reduction efforts in our supply chain,” it said, adding that efforts to do so are complicated by the fact that it doesn’t own its own factories or farms, but shares its suppliers with hundreds of other companies. “This does not weaken our resolve but it does add complexity to the task at hand,” it added.

Stella McCartney also said that its eschewal of leather already gives it a “head start.”

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Leather’s footprint, it said, is compounded by livestock farming’s land, water, and fossil-fuel demands, not to mention the tanning process’s heavy chemical burden.

Calf leather sourced from Brazil and tanned in Turkey, for instance, “costs” the environment €17 ($19) per kilogram, compared with €0.7 for recycled polyester.

“Although our choice to avoid leather enables us to have a lesser impact than those that do use leather on the whole, we openly acknowledge that the synthetic alternatives are not without environmental concerns,” the brand said. “We are working to reduce the impact of our alternative materials by using recycled and bio-based materials.”

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Out of all the raw materials it uses, Stella McCartney says that cashmere has the highest impact per kilogram, about 100 times that of wool. Most of this derives from the small amount of fiber that the goats produce every year in relation to the prodigious amount of grassland they require. There are other problems, including desertification due to overgrazing and the displacement of already-endangered wildlife.

“When compared to virgin cashmere, regenerated cashmere has an 87 percent reduction in impact,” the company said. “Which is primarily why we decided to switch to it.”

Stella McCartney the brand cited cashmere as just one example of how the audit system has informed its sourcing decisions.

“In addition to researching new ways to reduce impacts, we are also beginning to move towards transitioning away from merely doing less bad, to doing measurable good,” Stella McCartney the designer added. “We have many exciting projects in the pipeline and looking forward to sharing them in the future.”

+ Stella McCartney