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Sherrell Dorsey headshot

Fast Fashion Retailer Forever 21 Goes Solar, But is it Enough?


Fashion retail giant Forever 21 recently commenced the installation of a 5.1-megawatt solar power system at its headquarters in the Lincoln Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles. Forever 21 is the latest business to participate in the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power’s Feed-in Tariff (FiT) program, which seeks to encourage renewable energy development within the Los Angeles Basin by partnering with energy producers under a standard purchase contract. The goal of the program is to help the city of Los Angeles meet the 33 percent Renewables Portfolio Standard mandate by 2020. Upon completion of the solar panel installation, manufactured by PermaCity Solar, the power generated from Forever 21’s system will provide enough energy to power 1,450 homes in the area—or the equivalent of removing 1,200 passenger cars from the road.

"The solar system we will construct here on site will provide Forever 21 with the best solar technology available on the market today, designed to deliver reliable, emissions-free electricity over the next 25 years or more," said PermaCity CEO Jonathan Port in a press statement.

Little is known, however, if Forever 21’s new commitment to this rising renewable energy project will spill over into its rather sparse sustainability and environmental policies in the near future. The brand has seen more than its fair share of consumer backlash for its egregious crimes in the name of fashion -- sacrificing the reputation of its trendy cheap aesthetic for accusations of slave labor, environmental degradation and questionable design piracy practices.

According to the brand’s Corporate Social Responsibility clauses, Forever 21 leads a Vendor Audit Program to verify fair treatment of workers in their overseas factories and ensure adequate pay and working conditions. The audit program allegedly maintains a highly trained Vendor Compliance Team, which promotes and enforces lawful and ethical operations at factory sites. Further detailed information on the success and compliance of the program is currently unavailable.

The retailer’s environmental policy leaves much to be desired boasting minuscule initiatives that include installing LED lighting within new stores to reduce energy use, recycling all shipment boxes at its distribution center and transporting products via sea in lieu of air, to help curb carbon emissions.

Perhaps, Forever 21 would do well by marching in line with its retail counterpart H&M that has made remarkable strides and commitments as part of its sustainability goals. H&M is the leading fast fashion retailer -- pushing the proverbial envelope on how its operations benefit from adopting policies that reduce the use of water in the company's manufacturing processes, increase the amount of sustainable materials in its products and recycle old garments to divert textile waste from landfills.

If Forever 21 is betting on one sole solar panel array project to set the tone for its future environmental endeavors, the call for a chief sustainability officer is in order.

Image credit: © 2011 Flickr: StampMedia - Jelka Lepever and Vlad Solovov 

Sherrell Dorsey headshotSherrell Dorsey

Sherrell Dorsey is a social impact storyteller, social entrepreneur and advocate for environmental, social and economic equity in underserved communities. Sherrell speaks and writes frequently on the topics of sustainability, technology, and digital inclusion.

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