Free shipping is horrible for the environment - but one of fast fashion's rising stars is showing the industry that convenience doesn't have to destroy the planet



Reformation's latest announcement may seem to counter the brand's environmental dedication.

  • Reformation is known for its commitment to the environment - and clothes that "cool girls"love.
  • But a new move by the retailer initially seems to contradict that. The company announced it's launching free global shipping.
  • Reformation says, to help counteract potentially harmful effects on the environment, it will offset all carbon emissions, as well as harmful gases like nitrogen oxide or sulfur dioxide.
  • The strategy shows that fast fashion and free shipping don't necessarily have to destroy the planet.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Reformation drummed up more than $100 million in revenue in 2017 on breezy floral dresses with thigh-high leg slits and dressing rooms featuring custom lighting options with names like "sexy time."

The retailer also won over the "cool girls" with its steadfast stance that "carbon is canceled."Advertisement

It publishes a sustainability report every year, instead of issuing quarterly earnings. The company implores customers to buy carbon credits - $20 to offset their international shipping flights, or $160 to cover an average wedding.

"Being naked is the #1 most sustainable option," the retailer's Instagram bio reads. "We're #2."

But a July 11 announcement from Reformation initially appears to back away from that branding message. Reformation is now offering free, global shipping to its customers. "BIG NEWS - From now on, you get free worldwide express shipping on all orders," the brand told subscribers in an email. "Very nice indeed."

But that might not seem so nice for the planet. Shipping is a pretty big contributor to global warming.

Fast shipping is especially detrimental. "Before, companies were able to consolidate, to optimize their distribution. Now, because some of them are offering really fast and rushed deliveries, that disintegrates the consolidation," Miguel Jaller of the Institute for Transportation Studies at the University of California Davis told Vox. "Every individual is buying more and wanting those goods to be at their home really fast. That creates more vehicles, more traffic, and potentially more emissions."Read more: How Reformation won over 'cool girls' by filling a void left by H&M and Forever 21Advertisement

Axios reported last month that the global carbon dioxide emissions from FedEx and UPS alone - who carry much of our e-commerce orders - equal 0.5% of the United States' CO2 output. Together, their emissions equal the output of more than seven million cars.

Domestically, trucks move about 72% of US goods by weight. Globally, they comprise 6.1% of CO2 emissions - not far behind the output from passenger vehicles.

International shipping can get especially dirty. Air cargo, which moves 35% of global trade by value, contributes to 2% of the world's carbon emissions. Maritime shipping contributed to 2-3% of carbon emissions and as much as 15% of the world's nitrogen oxide output, according to a 2008 OECD report.Advertisement

With that in mind, Reformation is offsetting not only the carbon emissions from free shipping but also nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide, and lesser-known gases that are damaging the planet. Reformation has been carbon neutral since 2015.

The company did not have a statement for this story.

All greenhouse-gas emissions associated with free shipping will be normalized to CO2 pounds and then offset by carbon credits. Companies and individuals can buy carbon offsets to mitigate their climate impact, and that money is shuttled toward investing in renewable energy, reforestation, methane collection, and other Earth-friendly products.Advertisement

What's more, the packaging that Reformation is shipping its clothes in around the world are made from recycled paper products and compostable materials.

Kathleen Talbot, Reformation's vice president of operations and sustainability, told Business Insider's Bethany Biron that fast fashion doesn't necessarily have to be bad for the planet, but it's key to take sustainability initiatives beyond mere lip service.

"Unfortunately it does feel like sustainability and some of these fuzzy programs can be used more as a marketing initiative and it's something that we're really sensitive to," Talbot said.Advertisement

"Greenwashing is definitely a thing, and we're seeing it more and more in fashion. We encourage and challenge customers to scratch below the surface and make sure that a brand is really aligned with their values and what they're looking for."