Quantcast

New Report Promotes Need for Fashion Industry Action

Business

By Linda Greer

The fashion industry doesn't necessarily have the biggest nose-to-the-grindstone, follow-the-numbers reputation of an industry, let's face it. It is better known for its creativity, innovation and trendsetting.


But this sector packs a major punch environmentally, let me tell you—in terms of climate impact, water use and pollution. We urgently need a serious and professional effort in the ranks, but we are suffering from what I like to think of as the sector's "youthful exuberance" on the sustainability front, which is generating much more buzz than meaningful results to the planet.

A path-breaking report issued Tuesday from ClimateWorks Foundation and Quantis should really help us all.

First, the headline news: The fashion industry is estimated to contribute fully 8 percent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions. What! That surprised even me, falling just short of the contribution of the entire global transportation sector! (14 percent, according to IPCC.)

How is that possible? Well, a perfect storm of globalization (which moved manufacturing to countries without strong environmental controls) population growth, rapid increase in GDP (and hence purchasing power) around the world, and, most notably, fast fashion trends (that rapidly multiplied the amount of clothing people buy per capita)—and the sum of these trends has increased this sector's climate impacts by 25 percent in a little over a decade. Yup, that much since only 2005! In case those figures are not enough to wake you up, the sector is projected to further sharply increase its climate impact by nearly half as much again by 2030. That is, unless we change the status quo.

These numbers should better motivate all of us—multinational apparel retailers and brands, designers, policy wonks, NGOs and ordinary customers alike—to more urgent and effective action to stem the tide of the accelerating damage that the fashion industry is causing.

Fortunately, the ClimateWorks/Quantis report also provides some uniquely helpful information to craft a path forward for the serious reductions we need. By diving deeper into each phase of apparel manufacturing than previous analysis, this study identifies the specific hot spots in the manufacturing process which need the most attention. In a nutshell, it directs the industry's focus to the areas that matter the most, so that companies don't waste time on the small stuff.

Spoiler alert! The biggest hot spot of concern in the global fashion industry is fabric dyeing and finishing, weighing in at 36 percent of the sector's total carbon footprint. That's where a tremendous amount of the pollution comes from as well, by the way, and is precisely where NRDC's Clean by Design program has focused for more than five years. We're here to tell you that there are plenty of opportunities to significantly reduce climate, water and chemical use in this phase of apparel manufacturing with fixes that will save you money. We're also here to tell you that despite the stellar and well-documented results of Clean by Design at more than 100 fabric mills around the world, participation in the program is nowhere near what it should be. "Rise up," we have been saying to multi-national apparel retailers and brands, without enough response.

And the smallest impact in the manufacturing process? The cut-and-sew garment factories. Weighing in at a lowly 7 percent … and at the very spot where so many companies are focusing their supply chain efforts. This final step in manufacturing may be where companies find it easiest to start, I know, and is where many labor issues lie. But it is not where it is most important to work, as far as environmental impact is concerned. Given the urgent timeline under which we need to reduce climate impacts, we really do need to focus our efforts where the impact is greatest, rather than waste time in areas of marginal impact.

So, hear ye, hear ye!! A shout out to those companies in the apparel sector that have joined the "We Are Still In" post-Paris movement and/or those otherwise interested in putting their shoulder to the wheel by committing to set Science Based Targets (SBT) for climate reductions consistent with no more than a 2 degree increase in temperature. Tuesday's report empowers you to step up and set ambitious, achievable targets for your reductions.

Report in hand, NRDC has just launched an effort to create model SBT's for the fashion industry. We'll include a specific roadmap of reductions you can pursue to achieve the targets we propose. We'd love to hear from anyone already at work on this mission and/or from those who would like to just follow along. Stay tuned for more.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

A vegan diet can improve your health, but experts say it's important to keep track of nutrients and protein. Getty Images

By Dan Gray

  • Research shows that 16 weeks of a vegan diet can boost the gut microbiome, helping with weight loss and overall health.
  • A healthy microbiome is a diverse microbiome. A plant-based diet is the best way to achieve this.
  • It isn't necessary to opt for a strictly vegan diet, but it's beneficial to limit meat intake.

New research shows that following a vegan diet for about 4 months can boost your gut microbiome. In turn, that can lead to improvements in body weight and blood sugar management.

Read More Show Less
Students gathered at the National Mall in Washington DC, Sept. 20. NRDC

By Jeff Turrentine

Nearly 20 years have passed since the journalist Malcolm Gladwell popularized the term tipping point, in his best-selling book of the same name. The phrase denotes the moment that a certain idea, behavior, or practice catches on exponentially and gains widespread currency throughout a culture. Having transcended its roots in sociological theory, the tipping point is now part of our everyday vernacular. We use it in scientific contexts to describe, for instance, the climatological point of no return that we'll hit if we allow average global temperatures to rise more than 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels. But we also use it to describe everything from resistance movements to the disenchantment of hockey fans when their team is on a losing streak.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
samael334 / iStock / Getty Images

By Ruairi Robertson, PhD

Berries are small, soft, round fruit of various colors — mainly blue, red, or purple.

Read More Show Less
A glacier is seen in the Kenai Mountains on Sept. 6, near Primrose, Alaska. Scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey have been studying the glaciers in the area since 1966 and their studies show that the warming climate has resulted in sustained glacial mass loss as melting outpaced the accumulation of new snow and ice. Joe Raedle / Getty Images

By Mark Mancini

On Aug. 18, Iceland held a funeral for the first glacier lost to climate change. The deceased party was Okjökull, a historic body of ice that covered 14.6 square miles (38 square kilometers) in the Icelandic Highlands at the turn of the 20th century. But its glory days are long gone. In 2014, having dwindled to less than 1/15 its former size, Okjökull lost its status as an official glacier.

Read More Show Less
Members of Chicago Democratic Socialists of America table at the Logan Square Farmers Market on Aug. 18. Alex Schwartz

By Alex Schwartz

Among the many vendors at the Logan Square Farmers Market on Aug. 18 sat three young people peddling neither organic vegetables, gourmet cheese nor handmade crafts. Instead, they offered liberation from capitalism.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
StephanieFrey / iStock / Getty Images

By Lauren Panoff, MPH, RD

Muffins are a popular, sweet treat.

Read More Show Less
Hackney primary school students went to the Town Hall on May 24 in London after school to protest about the climate emergency. Jenny Matthews / In Pictures / Getty Images

By Caroline Hickman

Eco-anxiety is likely to affect more and more people as the climate destabilizes. Already, studies have found that 45 percent of children suffer lasting depression after surviving extreme weather and natural disasters. Some of that emotional turmoil must stem from confusion — why aren't adults doing more to stop climate change?

Read More Show Less
Myrtle warbler. Gillfoto / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Bird watching in the U.S. may be a lot harder than it once was, since bird populations are dropping off in droves, according to a new study.

Read More Show Less