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Fast Fashion Wrecks the Environment: Here Are 3 Ways to Slow It Down

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Clothes swapping party in Hannover, Germany hosted by Greenpeace. Michael Loewa / Greenpeace

By Gabriele Salari

The fashion industry is considered to be one of the most polluting in the world. Its material-intensive business model relies heavily on our addiction to overconsumption and feeds the destruction of the planet.

There is one way to solve the problem: slowing down fashion. We need a model that doesn't compromise on ethical, social and environmental values and involves customers, rather than encouraging them to binge buy ever-changing trends.


At Milan Fashion Week this year, Greenpeace Italy decided to give the podium to the pioneers of sustainable fashion, who are changing the way we wear our clothes. These are the companies behind some of the examples from the Greenpeace Germany report Fashion at the Crossroads.

We chose to highlight the three most important ways to create clothes that don't harm the planet: Make it last, Make it right, Make it different.

1. Make It Last

Hilke Patzwall from Vaude

"One of our key problems is too much consumption. It's important to inform consumers about all the consequences of fast fashion, but it is even more important that the industry takes on their responsibility. As a brand, we need to make products with a physical and emotional durability, and provide the infrastructure so that consumers can live up to slowing the loop."

Eliina Brinkberg and Hilke Patzwall at the event in Milan.Greenpeace

Eliina Brinkberg from Nudie Jeans

"At Nudie Jeans, we encourage our customers to wear their jeans longer by offering free repairs. We're so happy to be brought up as an example of being on the right track and we share Greenpeace's belief that prolonging the life of our clothes is one of the most important ways of slowing down the flow of materials in the fashion industry."

"By appreciating true craftsmanship, learning to love and care for our clothes and by buying less and wearing longer, we can create a more sustainable textile industry."

2. Make It Right

Andrea Cavicchi, part of the Italian Detox Consortium

Greenpeace

"In the Prato area of Tuscany, we've been making sustainable fabric since the 12th century. We use production techniques where wool fibres are reused to produce new fabrics, allowing the recovery of fibres and textile waste materials. Used clothes that would normally be thrown away are reintroduced into the production cycle as raw materials. The first manufacturing companies to sign up to Greenpeace's Detox Commitment were in the Prato textile district."

"Now the Italian Detox Consortium is applying the Detox approach to the virtuous process of recycling textile fibers by promoting an investigation of the chemical contamination of regenerated articles and finding out what we can do to solve it. We ensure the traceability of the recycled textile material with their certification and by working with an international authority."

Enrica Arena from Orange Fiber

Greenpeace

"We believe that a sustainable and ethical business model—one which considers the environmental and human costs of manufacture to be as crucial as profit—together with a circular approach to material sourcing and design, are the keys to closing the loop in the fashion industry and taking our world beyond the next season."

"We're faithful to our motto, 'the future is not a place we're going to, but a place we create,' and continue to research new raw materials and develop ways to improve our manufacturing process. People who wear a dress made out of our fabrics are not just consumers, but contributors to a more sustainable future. This is the contemporary way to construct an ethical and sustainable lifestyle; one that looks further than status and considers the future of our world."

3. Make It Different

Pola Fendel from Kleiderei

Greenpeace

"Society is definitely shifting. Consumers are starting to question more. The amount of people who want to buy less and choose quality over quantity is growing. The projects and companies represented on Greenpeace's Fashion at the Crossroads panel all feed into this change in society whilst shaping and broadening it. We are increasing attention to this topic and providing much needed alternatives to fast fashion and overconsumption."

Arielle Lévy from L'Herbe Rouge

Greenpeace

"Sustainability is a state of mind. The stakes are high for fashion. I believe that we have to inspire the economy by showing the success of new business models, especially post carbon initiatives. This is the only way our highly polluting industry can protect people, consumers and the planet."

"As far as the L'Herbe Rouge business model is concerned, our four pillars have proved that une autre mode est possible," (another fashion is possible):

  • Coherence of Chain of Value: Eco design, eco production, eco distribution.
  • Eco Frugality: Minimize resources and maximize added value (product and service).
  • Innovation: In order to find new answers and create local jobs and autonomy for companies.
  • Affordable Quality: Fair and accessible prices, direct selling, no intermediary, democratization through slow wear.

Shifting Mindsets

How do we thank the marvelous people working so tirelessly to change fashion for the better? We chose to give the final word to a Greenpeace ally:

Orsola de Castro from the Fashion Revolution

Greenpeace

"Before technology and the advancement of the circular economy will save us, we have to slow down mass production and accelerated consumption."

"Now that consumers are asking questions, and an increasing number of brands are beginning to understand that tomorrow's loyalty will demand sustainable innovation, we need to encourage a culture where people are encouraged to challenge brands to be more ethical."

"If we increase the visibility of smaller slow-fashion brands we can make the fashion industry much more biodiverse. Small really is beautiful!"

Our next challenge is changing people's minds.

Gabriele Salari is the Communications Specialist for the Detox My Fashion campaign in Greenpeace Italy.

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Protestors marched outside the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey on Monday, August 26, during the MTV Video and Music Awards to bring attention to the water crisis currently gripping the city. Karla Ann Cote / NurPhoto / Getty Images

By Will Sarni

It is far too easy to view scarcity and poor quality of water as issues solely affecting emerging economies. While the images of women and children fetching water in Africa and a lack of access to water in India are deeply disturbing, this is not the complete picture.

The city of Flint, Michigan, where dangerous levels of pollutants contaminated the municipal water supply, is a case in point — as is, more recently, the city of Newark, New Jersey.

The Past is No Longer a Guide to the Future

We get ever closer to "day zeros" — the point at when municipal water supplies are switched off — and tragedies such as Flint. These are not isolated stories. Instead they are becoming routine, and the public sector and civil society are scrambling to address them. We are seeing "day zeros" in South Africa, India, Australia and elsewhere, and we are now detecting lead contamination in drinking water in cities across the U.S.

"Day zero" is the result of water planning by looking in the rear-view mirror. The past is no longer a guide to the future; water demand has outstripped supplies because we are tied to business-as-usual planning practices and water prices, and this goes hand-in-hand with the inability of the public sector to factor the impacts of climate change into long-term water planning. Lead in drinking water is the result of lead pipe service lines that have not been replaced and in many cases only recently identified by utilities, governments and customers. An estimated 22 million people in the US are potentially using lead water service lines. This aging infrastructure won't repair or replace itself.

One of the most troubling aspects of the global water crisis is that those least able to afford access to water are also the ones who pay a disproportionately high percentage of their income for it. A report by WaterAid revealed that a standard water bill in developed countries is as little as 0.1 percent of the income of someone earning the minimum wage, while in a country like Madagascar a person reliant on a tanker truck for their water supply would spend as much as 45 percent of their daily income on water to get just the recommended daily minimum supply. In Mozambique, families relying on black-market vendors will spend up to 100 times as much on water as those reached by government-subsidized water supplies.

Finally, we need to understand that the discussion of a projected gap between supply and demand is misleading. There is no gap, only poor choices around allocation. The wealthy will have access to water, and the poor will pay more for water of questionable quality. From Flint residents using bottled water and paying high water utility rates, to the poor in South Africa waiting in line for their allocation of water — inequity is everywhere.

Water Inequity Requires Global Action — Now.

These troubling scenarios beg the obvious question: What to do? We do know that ongoing reports on the 'water crisis' are not going to catalyze action to address water scarcity, poor quality, access and affordability. Ensuring the human right to water feels distant at times.

We need to mobilize an ecosystem of stakeholders to be fully engaged in developing and scaling solutions. The public sector, private sector, NGOs, entrepreneurs, investors, academics and civil society must all be engaged in solving water scarcity and quality problems. Each stakeholder brings unique skills, scale and speed of impact (for example, entrepreneurs are fast but lack scale, while conversely the public sector is slow but has scale).

We also urgently need to change how we talk about water. We consistently talk about droughts happening across the globe — but what we are really dealing with is an overallocation of water due to business-as-usual practices and the impacts of climate change.

We need to democratize access to water data and actionable information. Imagine providing anyone with a smartphone the ability to know, on a real-time basis, the quality of their drinking water and actions to secure safe water. Putting this information in the hands of civil society instead or solely relying on centralized regulatory agencies and utilities will change public policies.

Will Sarni is the founder and CEO of Water Foundry.

Note: This post also appears on the World Economic Forum.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Circle of Blue.

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