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Can the fashion industry reduce emissions? 

As more industries seek to become eco-friendly and reduce their carbon footprint, one industry faces significant hurdles in achieving its greenhouse gas emissions goals. That’s the fashion industry. According to McKinsey Sustainability, the industry’s estimated greenhouse gas emissions in 2018 were estimated to be about 4% of the world’s total. They also said the fashion […]

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As more industries seek to become eco-friendly and reduce their carbon footprint, one industry faces significant hurdles in achieving its greenhouse gas emissions goals. That’s the fashion industry. According to McKinsey Sustainability, the industry’s estimated greenhouse gas emissions in 2018 were estimated to be about 4% of the world’s total. They also said the fashion industry would “miss its 1.5 degrees C pathway by 50 percent.” 

The organisation also estimates that the fashion industry puts out the same quantity of greenhouse gases per year as the economies of the UK, France and Germany combined. 

The statistics shouldn’t come as a surprise for an industry based on fast and micro fashion trends. Consumers are pushed by the latest trends and do not wear clothing from the previous trend (or micro trend) because they’re now out of date. The drive for new fashion is only a part of the industry’s problem. 

The rest of the fashion industry’s issues come from the industry’s supply chains. 

The fashion industry’s supply chain

One of the significant problems with the fashion industry’s supply chain is that fashion companies go from factory to factory, country to country, trying to find the best suppliers. The best suppliers are those offering the lowest prices and the quickest turnaround. 

The industry’s leading companies constantly look for the right manufacturer. They may choose to use a supplier in Vietnam for a time, switching to another supplier in another country to save money. They are focused on constantly shifting suppliers to save money and produce clothing in the shortest time possible. 

When it comes to the manufacturers, they are faced with a demand for low prices and a fast turnaround. To stay up with demand and low prices, the companies are forced to use coal and fossil fuels to produce fabric and garments. Many of these manufacturers come from parts of the world that rely on fossil fuels. There’s a lack of infrastructure and support for renewable energies in these countries.

But the industry’s carbon footprint also includes the farmers who raise the cotton and wool needed to make clothes. It also includes manufacturers that produce synthetic fabrics so popular around the world. These fabrics are made from polyester and other synthetic materials made from fossil fuels. The entire fashion supply chain is riddled with carbon emissions, making it difficult for the industry to meet its greenhouse gas emissions goals. 

The result is fast fashion that creates tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions. But that’s not where the problem ends. 

The consumer side of fashion is also a problem

Once clothing has been manufactured, it must then be shipped to retailers, resulting in more carbon emissions. Consumers head to the store in their vehicles to purchase the clothing, resulting in even more emissions. This is a regular occurrence for those focused on the latest fashions. 

While online retail sales can cut emissions somewhat, the high demand for new fashion still produces carbon emissions, putting the industry off its eco-friendly goals. 

Then, what happens to the clothing once consumers are finished with it? Some may donate their clothing to organisations that give it away or resell it. However, if garments are too worn to wear, much of the fabric ends up in landfills. 

While clothing made of natural materials decomposes quickly, garments made from synthetic fabrics can take hundreds of years to break down. During this process, they may emit synthetic fibres into nature, which then become part of the ecological problem of micro plastics the entire world is facing. 

What steps can the fashion industry take to become more sustainable? 

There is some good news for the fashion industry. There are many ways to help reduce the industry’s carbon emissions through cost-effective measures, which can result in savings for manufacturers. 

For one thing, they can work with manufacturers to reduce emissions in the production of fabric and garments. In addition, they can work with manufacturers to minimise waste from manufacturing and production, with the goal of lowering the carbon emissions for clothing manufacturing. 

In addition, urging manufacturers to switch to more energy-efficient manufacturing methods and transitioning from reliance on fossil fuels to renewable energy sources could also help lower their overall carbon footprint. 

Next, the fashion industry could also use more recycled fibre from used clothing to make their industry more eco-friendly. In addition, the industry could also urge consumers to adopt more sustainable behaviour in their consumption of fashion. The goal would be to create and promote a circular economy with consumers. 

A circular economy for fashion would promote the sale of new clothing but at a lower consumption rate. The idea would be for the industry to promote garment rental, resale, repair, and refurbishment. In addition, the industry would also endorse a reduction in the laundering of clothing while increasing recycling opportunities and collection. This would not only lower the fashion industry’s carbon footprint, but it would also reduce consumers’ carbon emissions, and less waste would head to the landfill. 

Promoting sustainable policies

Finally, the fashion industry can also make a huge difference in its carbon emissions by promoting sustainable policies at the government level. The industry could work with regulators and governments to promote sustainable manufacturing practices and conscious consumption. But the fashion industry’s influence doesn’t end there. 

The industry can also offer support and incentives to its supply chain by encouraging eco-friendly methods and initiatives. 

Of course, this isn’t easy, with many countries where fashion is made still rely on coal and other fossil fuels. In addition, the reliance on synthetic fabrics, such as polyester (and others), must also change. The good news is that some manufacturers are working to create fabrics from various materials, such as polyester from captured carbon, the creation of bio-polymers from organic waste, and more. 

Concluding thoughts

It is possible for the fashion industry to come together and attain sustainability and meet its greenhouse gas emissions goals. However, it will take a combined effort to tackle the problems within the industry’s supply chain, promotion of conscious consumption to consumers, and work with governments and regulators to promote sustainable policies. 

The good news is the industry is beginning to respond to consumer demand for more sustainable practices and goods. And major brands within the fashion industry are starting initiatives to achieve greenhouse gas emissions goals in the near future.

What is the business case for sustainability?

Thursday 21 February 2024, 1:00-2:00 PM

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