When Karl Lagerfeld sent models down a solar panel runway against a backdrop of wind turbines for Chanel’s Spring 2013 show, the references to renewable energy seemed more about an aesthetic than anything else.

But seven years later, the brand is investing in renewable energy for real. On Wednesday, Chanel announced that it would be committing $35 million toward clean energy projects that will benefit low-income families in California. The luxury house is doing so through a partnership with Sunrun, one of the United States’ largest home solar, battery storage and energy services companies.

Chanel’s money will go towards a fund that supports solar installation for 30,000 California residents, with Sunrun overseeing the actual installations and ongoing system management. According to the French fashion company, the project should help beneficiaries save an average of $40 to $50 a month in energy costs. 

This isn’t straight-up philanthropy, though. There’s an upside for Chanel, too — this project will generate Renewable Energy Certificates, a Chanel rep tells Fashionista via email, “which will be applied to Chanel’s operations (warehouses, offices and boutiques) across the United States and Canada. The amount of renewable electricity generated is sufficient to cover 100% of the company’s electricity use in North America.”

That means that when Chanel reports on its carbon footprint, it will be able to use the Renewable Energy Certificates generated by this project to declare its North American operations carbon neutral (a claim the brand has made about itself since 2019), even if it’s still using fossil fuels to power offices, boutiques and the like. This will help Chanel reach the goals outlined in its Mission 1.5 Climate Plan, unveiled in March, which include reducing some of its own emissions in addition to offsetting others.

Carbon offsetting remains a much-discussed, sometimes-contested practice, with some environmentalists arguing that it can serve as license for corporations to keep emitting climate change-causing greenhouse gases while still calling themselves low- or zero-carbon operations. But others see the benefits of offsets, which incentivize a company like Chanel to use its significant financial resources to help low-income families transition to solar and save on their energy bills. 

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