What did I achieve so far in my quest for Sustainable Fashion Consumption?

As our series of posts on our personal challenge comes to an end, I share some reflections that also feature part of what I have learned so far working on my dissertation.

As the reader may not remember the first post on my Sustainability Leadership Opportunity, I report here the areas I was planning to address:

  1. Build a repertoire of sustainable brands to shop from
  2. Learn how to mend and repair my clothes. Even learn how to knit some of my clothes/accessories!
  3. Reduce of 1/3 my wardrobe by giving away everything I have not used for a quite some time and organising one swap event with friends a year (which has the benefit of talking to them about fashion waste and nudge them to buy less!)
Credit Lanius at https://www.lanius.com/about-us/materials/

The first item on the list was a relatively easy one, but not as easy as I thought. After a change of lifestyle and my second pregnancy, I recently realised that it was time for me to buy a few new items. When I moved to London and started to work as freelance consultant, I stopped buying new clothes as I could wear casual most days and use my “old” work clothes when visiting clients (in my last corporate job no one would to wear the same outfit for two days in a row and only on Fridays we were “allowed” to wear casual clothes!). A new routine combined with the freedom from social norms (yes, SOCIAL NORMS!) did a great job in making my life simpler and happier. Pregnancy did the rest! When pregnant, I bought just two pairs of pregnancy jeans and a couple of tops, and I was perfectly fine. So, the reader may wonder how many clothes I have bought over the last six years since I moved to London. Roughly and by memory here what I bought: four yoga+running outfits, seven pullovers (AW/SS), six pair of jeans (including the pregnancy ones), unknown number of T-shirts, two skirts, one running jacket and one jacket, four pairs of sneakers and four pairs of running shoes.

Is this a lot as it may seem? According to research done to quantify fashion consumption, on average, a person consumes 11.4kg of apparel each year (Quantis, 2018). When we look at Western countries, then this figure is much higher, though. According to a recent research Western Europeans consume 22kg of new textiles each, Australians 27kg of new textiles each, and North Americans, the largest consumers of new textiles, consumes 37kgs each (Textile Beat, 2016).
Given the above figures, I would say I have a good track record of slow fashion consumption. Moreover, I made a significant reduction compared to my old shopping habits. Although I made a big stride in slowing down my clothing consumption, the principle to select what to buy based on sustainability credentials is much more recent. I can date it back to 2017 when I started studying at Cambridge. Acting on this principle, however, was very recent as I had no reasons to buy new items and I stuck to my slow consumption principle of buying new clothes only if I needed to. In parallel, I significantly increased the purchase of second-hand children clothes (in addition to getting pre-loved items from my sister or friends) and, as much as I could, I bought new items at Polarn O. Pyret – an incredible Swedish brand pioneer of sustainable childrenswear clothing.
The first items that I can say I consciously bought for myself assessing their sustainability credentials were my pair of G-star jeans; a pullover made using Modal by H and, and my pair of Veja sneakers. Then more recently, I started searching for more formal clothing I could wear at meetings. In December I bought a pair of elegant black trousers at MyWardrobeMistakes, and this month two pair of trousers and two pullovers (all from two sustainable fashion brands Filippa K and Lanius) and a pair of black leather shoes by Filippa K. The App Good on You was excellent at telling me the sustainability credentials of the brand I was considering and helped me discover two fabulous brands, Filippa K and Lanius. My choice is still very limited, and I had to put a red cross on many brands I used to love, but I have now a few I know I will be loyal to, and I am planning not to buy more winter clothes for at least two seasons.

As far as the other two points, I am doing well, but I am not there yet. I was able to fix loose buttons on a jacket, and this week I will mend a small hole I have found in a Uniqlo old pullover. Still, there is no way I can hem my new trousers! I know that there are mending/sewing workshops that are organised in London, but I need to find the time to sign up to one of these.

Finally, I did a bit of work on giving away old clothes that I am not using anymore. Surprisingly (!), while looking into what I already have, I discovered items that I had completely forgotten I had and started wearing them again! The swapping event with friends has not happened so far as I cannot host it at my place (too tiny to accommodate 10-15 people!), but I am going to attend one event organised by The Conduit in February.

Overall, I can say things are progressing as I wished. The next part will see me trying to work on my shopaholic friends as I have a few that still live in the consumeristic bubble!

Should I rent my clothes? How Sustainable is renting clothes?

credit: https://unsplash.com/@victor_g

In the last twenty years, the volume of clothes produced globally has sharply increased. In 2015, the amount of clothing and footwear waste generated in the USA was 10,2 million tons, an 811 per cent increase against the amount disposed of in 1960 (EPA, 2015). In 2016 in the UK consumers purchased 1,13 million tonnes of clothing, an increase of 200,000 tonnes against the 2012 levels (WRAP, 2017). Although recent data seem to indicate an improvement in the average time clothes are kept before being discarded or passed on (on average  3.3 years), the amount of clothing in active use in the UK in the same period was calculated as only 3.6 million tonnes of the 1,13 million tonnes purchased, showing how limited is the portion of wardrobe consumers actually use (WRAP, 2017). Within this context, new business models have emerged. Two are the ones that have caught my attention as I saw them as promising ways to achieve my objective of being a sustainable fashion shopper: “Clothes as a Service” and “Second-hand clothes”. I bought second-hand clothes in the past (sporadically) and volunteered at Oxfam, but never rented clothes in my life. In this post, I reflect on Clothes as a Service and the opportunity and risks associated with it. 

Clothes as a Service is a business model that sees renting clothes as an alternative to purchasing them. The business model has exploded in the USA with Rent the Runaway being the frontrunner and most prominent company in this area. With a $125 million investment round, Rent the Runway is now valued at over $1 billion, showing that investors see Clothes as a Service as a key business opportunity. But is it also a sustainability opportunity? It is not possible to give a straightforward answer as an in-depth LCA of this business model has not been carried out so far.  If we look at the journey of a garment that is rented, we immediately see that there are several stages that have a significant environmental impact (excluding the environmental impact already embedded in the garment from its sourcing of raw materials to manufacturing and delivery). Every item borrowed must be returned and cleaned, which means the shipping impact of leasing your wardrobe could be significant. 

credit: https://unsplash.com/@curology

–   TRASPORT Josué Velázquez-Martínez, executive director of MIT’s Supply Chain Management master’s program and Sustainable Logistics Initiative, estimated that an item ordered online and then returned can emit 20 kilograms of carbon each way, and spirals up to 50 kilograms for rush shipping (MIT, 2019). By comparison, according to a study commissioned by Levi’s,  the carbon emissions associated with the entire life cycle of a pair of jeans is 33.4 kilograms (Levi Strauss & Co, 2015). Because the initial assumptions of an LCA are key and varying them can lead to very different results, a direct comparison between the above figures cannot be made. Nonetheless, the initial assessment of the impact of shipping is relevant and rises concerns (especially if the business is in big countries such as USA). More research is needed and a direct comparison would give better and more reliable data. No need to say that I will keep an eye for a scientific publication on this topic!

–   PACKAGING The goods are shipped wrapped in plastic and in cardboard boxes that may or may not be recycled and even if recycled are single-use items. Returns are done using a plastic bag, which has a carbon footprint too. Rent the Runway is actually shipping in reusable garment bags and hangers, but each single item inside is still wrapped in a plastic dry-cleaning bag (!).

–   CLEANING If our weekly laundry is responsible for much of the water footprint of the clothes we own and can have a significant carbon footprint if laundry is done at high temperatures and using the tumble drier (Helbig, 2018), rent clothes undergo dry-cleaning that has other environmental pitfalls. First, it uses more energy, second it uses perchloroethylene, a solvent that’s carcinogenic and classified as a toxic air pollutant by the EPA or – as rent companies claim to use – hydrocarbon alternatives (“petroleum-based” solvents) that are still hazardous chemicals. Wet cleaning is an environmental-friendly alternative but it is rarer to find with only Le Tote claiming it is using it. 

The above picture does show that as much as Clothes as a Service is sold as a Green way to consume fashion, there is a significant environmental impact that is associated with this business model. The critical question at this stage is: Is it more sustainable than purchasing clothes? If yes, how much?

A clear answer cannot be given as it depends on the scenarios that are compared. If we assume that a consumer is a fast-fashion compulsive shopper that buys very frequently and dispose of her/his clothes rapidly (and presumably has a large part of her wardrobe that it is not used), then the answer is that renting is very likely to be a more sustainable solution (the majority of clothes carbon footprint is embedded in the clothes themselves). But if the consumer is a fashion consumer of high-quality items that washes clothes only when they really need a wash (at low temperature and without a tumble drier), and keeps them for years, then I would say that rending is not more sustainable. In between we have all sort of possible options, making it very difficult to determine what behaviour is best for the planet.

Now coming back to me. Would it make sense for me to go to a Clothes as a Service model? The answer is: very sporadically. As explained in a previous post I do not buy fast fashion, and the clothes I buy remain with me for years (today I am wearing a pair of Bordeaux jeans that are 9 years old!). Still, I got to a point where my wardrobe is so minimalistic that I feel the need of few glamorous or luxury items to wear for special occasions (important meetings, business events, ceremonies) and in these occasions renting seems a great solution to me and I am prepared to give it a go in the next couple of months – so stay tuned!

Having now considered if Clothes as a Service can work to me, I still have two questions in my mind… 1) Am I the main target of this new companies? Or are they targetting the fast fashion consumer that is prepared to pay $119/month for an illimited number of clothes? 2) Is this model supporting the compulsive mindset that has led our society to consume our planet’s natural resources at an unsustainable rate?

OH! I forgot to add. No news on me mending and sewing my clothes despite the aupair that knows how to. Time is indicated as one of the barriers to sustainable behaviour, right? It is certainly valid in this specific case, but I am not giving up…just I need to find the right moment to work on this! Sustainability is a journey 🙂

Reading:

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2010/may/16/ethical-living-dry-cleaning

https://www.elle.com/fashion/a29536207/rental-fashion-sustainability/

References:

EPA (2015) Clothing and Footwear wasteepa.gov. Available at: https://www.epa.gov/facts-and-figures-about-materials-waste-and-recycling/nondurable-goods-product-specific-data#ClothingandFootwear (Accessed: 13 October 2019).

Helbig,  koren (2018) Less laundry less often: how to lighten the washday load on the environment | Life and style | The GuardianTheguardian.com. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2018/mar/31/less-laundry-less-often-how-to-lighten-the-washday-load-on-the-environment (Accessed: 8 November 2019).

Levi Strauss & Co (2015) Understanding the environmental impact of a pair of Levi’s ® 501 ® jeans. Available at: https://www.levistrauss.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/Full-LCA-Results-Deck-FINAL.pdf (Accessed: 8 November 2019).

MIT (2019) MIT Sustainable Logistics Initiative – Building Sustainable Supply Chainssustainable logistics.mit.edu. Available at: https://sustainablelogistics.mit.edu/ (Accessed: 8 November 2019).

WRAP (2017) Valuing Our Clothes: the cost of UK fashion. Available at: http://www.wrap.org.uk/sites/files/wrap/valuing-our-clothes-the-cost-of-uk-fashion_WRAP.pdf#page=8 (Accessed: 13 October 2019).

Personal Leadership Opportunity: reflections and next steps

Photo credit: unsplash.com

The two blogs that precede this one are pretty indicative of the energy and time that is required to be able to shop for fashion items that are sustainably made. I am currently working on my literature review on sustainable consumption, and I read a revealing paper by Linda Steg. She argues that four different values are the most relevant in determining the level of engagement in sustainable consumption: hedonic values and egoistic values (both self-enhancement values), and altruistic values and biospheric values (both self-transcendence values). The balance between these four values, according to Steg, has an effect on behaviour. In particular, engagement in sustainable consumption is seen when consumers exhibit strong altruistic and biospheric values. Steg argues that the fact that biospheric and altruistic values often do not translate into consistent behaviour is due to the need for values to be activated and supported by situational cues. Various situational factors can be identified. A well-recognised factor is represented by the capitalist narrative, whose emphasis on growth and competition promotes hedonic and egoistic values. Another factor that can either act positively or negatively is represented by social norms and the behaviour of others. Studies demonstrated, for example, that people littered more in a littered environment but were less likely to litter themselves if they observed someone voluntarily removing litter. Situational cues may not be as effective in activating biospheric and altruistic values in demanding and complex situations when the behaviour is somehow costly (for example, it requires an effort or money) – or when it is competing with the fulfilment of other values that are also important for the individual.

The above theory is ‘put in practice’ in my current experience as ‘sustainable fashion shopper’ as I struggle to keep up with my intention of buying only sustainable clothes given the knowledge barriers, cost, time and effort associated to it. I am pretty proud of myself as I did not buy any clothes or accessories in the last 6 months, but I am also aware of the focus and vigilance I had to maintain for my biospheric values and altruistic values to determine my actions and restrain me from purchasing new items. As I acknowledge that shopping sustainably for fashion is harder than I thought and required me to sacrifice brands that I love (e.g. Comptoir des Cotonniers or Boden), I am also aware that by building a portfolio of brands I can “safely” refer to I will make my shopping experience smoother in the future.
Note: I also discovered the App Good On You that significantly speeds up my checks and helps me identify sustainable brands.

Photo credit: Frank Mckenna at unsplash.com

As for my original plan and way forward, I need to start focusing on mending and repairing my clothes. On this, I put much hope in the au pair that will join our family in August as she comes with with the objective to enrolling on a course at London School of Fashion and has had some training in making theatre costumes. I am confident that having her with us will finally encourage me to learn how to sew!
And you may see me posting the image of one original hand-made fashion item one day! Never say never!

What about your shoes? Why we need better, sustainably made shoes.

Photo credit: www.po-zu.com

At the moment, the footwear industry doesn’t have a great reputation when it comes to being ethical or sustainable. Here are just a few statistics by the Better Shoes Foundation,  a not-for-profit organization set up to promote sustainable practices by providing an open-source platform for those who want to work towards a better way of making shoes.    

* 24.3 billion pairs of shoes were produced worldwide in 2014

* A single shoe can contain 65 parts that require 360 steps for assembly; this makes it also difficult to separate and recycle

* Less than 5% of waste from post-consumer shoes is recycled

* Just 2% of the final price of a shoe goes to the workers who made it

* 87% of the global footwear production occurs in Asia

* 85% of the world’s leather is tanned using chromium, which is considered to be the fourth worst pollutant in the world.

As for the rest of the fashion industry mass production and cheap labour cost have led to a dramatic increase in resources use, poor environmental practices, waste – an average of three pairs of shoes per person go to landfills every year – and the exploitation of vulnerable workers through long hours, low pay and dangerous working conditions. At the same time, the market for sustainably made shoes is now booming driven by consumers’ awareness and visionary entrepreneurs.  As a result, there are many emerging and established brands that have built sustainable practices from the ground up.

The app Good on You can be of help in looking for sustainable shoes, and the website of the Better Shoes Foundation has a pretty comprehensive list of sustainable brands. Here I list two sneakers brands that I like and that are getting pretty well known among sustainable fashion buyers.

Po-Zu

With a brand promise that states “we believe shoes should be things you fall in love with, and they should be created to last. We also believe you should be able to buy your shoes guilt-free, safe in the knowledge that they were created with love for people & planet” Po-Zu represents a leader brand in the sustainable fashion arena. As we always say, sustainability does not mean to compromise on design and style as you will immediately see when visiting their website. Last year the brand launched a new chrome-free leather RESISTANCE sneakers in Black and White with the Star Wars Rebellion logo embossed on the side of the shoe and the organic cotton Star Wars label on the tongue. This sleek sneaker has been worn by Star Wars fans and celebrities alike, including Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker), Daisy Ridley (Rey), John Boyega (Finn), Kelly Marie Tran (Rose) Anthony Daniels (C-3P0), Billy Dee Williams (Lando Calrissian), Warwick Davis, Kevin Smith and Youtuber Casey Neistat. When designing for sustainability Po-Zu starts with raw materials sourcing and design (see its biomimicry design for the revolutionary Foot Mattress) to then move to manufacturing where only solvent-free glues are used to protect workers’ health and nearly all waste products are recycled. The company also gives 10 per cent of its net profit to three environmental charities. To know more and shop for Po-Zu sneakers and shoes: https://po-zu.com

Photo Credit:  Veja Instagram

Photo Credit: Veja Instagram

VEJA

I got my first pair of VEJA for my birthday and I simply love them! I have been flirting with the idea of buying them for a year, but as I had other two pair of sneakers I decided I could wait. VEJA is a French brand founded by two friends François-Ghislain Morillion and Sébastien Kopp in 2005 . After the Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle, wore a pair of VEJA when visiting Australia, sales boomed and the French ethical brand quickly became one of the most talked-about sneaker brands around. What is special about the Brand VEJA though? Quoting the brand itself: “Since 2005, VEJA has been making sneakers differently infusing each stage of production with a positive impact.” VEJA’s ethical approach starts with raw materials sourcing: 100% organic cotton is sourced from Brazil and Peru from cooperatives where farmers are fairly paid; the rubber used for VEJA outer soles is from the Amazon rainforest and by increasing the economic value of the forest it helps the fight against deforestation; leather is traced so that it does not come from areas of deforestation and tanning is performed limiting chemicals and water to the minimum; the vegan leather comes from Italy and is made of corn waste applied on a cotton canvas. The same thorough approach is used for the production cycle and right through to packaging and distribution (the logistic hub in Bonneuil sur Marne is managed by atelier sans Frontières, a reintegration association that fights against exclusion through work). To know more and shop for VEJA sneakers:

https://project.veja-store.com/en/story and https://www.veja-store.com

 To explore other eco/ethical/vegan shoe brands: http://www.bettershoes.org/brands

Shiny frames: how sustainable is my pair of glasses?

Photo Credit: Apostolos Vamvouras for unsplash.com

Within my sustainability leadership journey, sunglasses have a special place. They may not be the first item that comes to mind for a sustainable wardrobe, but because my last job was in Eyewear, I couldn’t resist the idea of looking at sunglasses.

In 2019, it is s expected that Americans alone will buy over 200 million pairs of sunglasses , which shows that there is a clear need for sustainable options. If having information on fabrics and raw materials used in the fashion industry requires research and excellent investigative skills, when it comes to eyewear, one has to practically become an eco-Sherlock Holmes. Neither the producers of raw materials nor the eyewear manufacturers explain their processes or give any information on raw materials sourcing. Undeterred by the opacity of the industry, I researched extensively on the topic, and I am able to provide some insights and, hopefully, guidance on future eyewear purchases.

When it comes to materials, there are three main ones used for the frames:

– Acetate

– Nylon

– Metal

Acetate:

Acetate is a high-quality, beautifully glossy and transparent material with just the right amount of bend that is used for premium frames and luxury brands. While cellulose acetate is a non-petroleum-based plastic that is made from natural cotton and wood fibres – therefore from renewable sources – manufacturers do not provide any information of the sustainability profile of acetate, e.g.. there is no mention of the type of cotton (standard or organic) used, or whether the wood pulp is responsibly harvested. One brand that does specify that its acetate raw materials are responsibly harvested is Stella McCartney, which uses a bio-based acetate- i.e. acetate that does not contains plasticisers such as diethyl phthalate (an ingredient derived from oil that is indicated as potentially harmful for human health generally, and also produces toxic gases when burned). Another exciting brand that utilises bio-acetate is Dick Moby, whose tagline “Look good for the planet” clearly identifies the company mission. Dick Moby offers also recycled acetate. To conclude, I looked at the chemical process used to transform wood pulp or cotton lint into acetate. The process uses hazardous chemicals (acetic acid and acetic anhydride and sulfuric acid), and I assume that all chemicals and by-products are handled and disposed of properly, making the production cycle safe for the environment and workers (I cannot question what I do not know!).

Nylon:

Virgin plastics is another widely used raw material for frames and sunglasses. Cheaper than acetate, it is often used in premium fashion and fast fashion collections. Eyeglasses made of nylon were introduced in the late 1940s. Today, eyeglass manufacturers use blended nylon (polyamides, co-polyamides and gliamides) resulting in frames that are both strong and lightweight. Nylon is also a premier material for sports and performance frames because it is very resistant to hot and cold temperatures and because the frames are very flexible. It is evident that virgin plastic is not a sustainable material (it goes without saying!). While Revo, a sports brand of Luxottica (the major eyewear manufacturer in the world), launched a range of pre-consumer recycled frames as far back as in 2009, I could not find frames made of recycled plastic in the current collections of any of the major brands. I am, however, pleased to see that a number of innovative and niche brands are offering recycled plastic frames – notable amongst those I have discovered: Solo Eyewear, Sea2See (whose 100% made in Italy frames are made from ocean plastics, or more precisely abandoned nets, fishing lines, ropes collected from Girona, Spain), Waterhaul (I recommend you to have a look at the website and video of the recycling process!) and Bureo, a B certified company that does not only make sunglasses from recycling fishing nets, but also fantastic skateboards and cool objects such as the game Jenga in “ocean plastic”.

Metal:

Many frames – especially opticals – are made of metal. Once more, disappointingly I could not find recycled metal frames when I looked at the biggest manufacturers and brands, especially since metal is a material that can quite easily be repurposed. Of all the brands I looked at I found two that offer recycled metal: Proof that has a Recycled Aluminum Collection (aluminium per se can be infinitely recycled) and Dick Moby that uses a surplus of surgical-grade stainless steel.

In addition to these materials that are most frequently used for eyewear, there are innovative eco-friendly materials that are increasing their presence on the market. Wood and bamboo are becoming more popular, and we also found plant-based plastic eyewear brand Zeal whose frames are made of castor oil (actually, castor seed oil).

Once done with the frames, we I moved to the packaging. While traditional eyewear brands use carton boxes and/or leather or plastic cases, innovative sustainable brands show us that alternatives are possible. I report here a few examples: Dick Moby uses recycled PET pouches and recycled leather case, Pala has boxes that are FSC MIX certified, it uses recycled paper stock for all print materials, and its cases are woven from recycled plastic bags.

The last component of a frame I looked at is lenses. CR-39 plastic, polycarbonate, Trivex (a plastic made up of a urethane-based monomer), high-index plastics and crown glass are most frequently used. While I searched for information regarding the recyclability of lenses, I found very little information (I assume is that recyclability may be very hard for lenses with an applied a protective coating or mirror lenses, but I could not find confirmation of it). Two brands make an exception:  Waterhaul, whose lenses are made from 100% recycled mineral glass instead of plastic (these Italian premium lenses, made by Barberini,  are polarized and offer full UV protection as well as superior comfort) and Zeal, that uses a plant-based polymer called Ellume for the coating of their polarized lenses.

I think I have covered as much as can be said on the sustainability profile of sunglasses. The research took me a long time, and as you can see there are still many unanswered questions – this highlight how little manufacturers disclose about the products they make! Nevertheless, I am now able to shop for niche brands that are challenging big players using innovative and more sustainable materials. One more card added to my house of cards :-).

Next? I will be talking about shoes and more specifically sneakers 🙂

Low-carbon Fashion Industry. Consensus on numbers is low, but there is enough clarity on the way forward.

Why we need to reconsider the whole Fashion Value Chain and the way we consume Fashion.

When asked to write about the need for a transition to a low carbon economy, my first thought was that the impact of the apparel industry on climate change is practically unknown to the general public. The need for a redesign of the textile economy has emerged with two main themes: workers’ rights for decent wages, safe and healthy working conditions, and the emerging and burning issue of the amount of waste generated by a faster consumption and disposal of clothes. The latter is intimately connected to climate change, but the link is not so obvious or easy to communicate because the carbon emissions related to the fashion industry are spread through the whole supply chain and hidden in processes that are not visible to us. [As a comparison the concepts of carbon emissions in relation to the transport or the meat industries are easier to grasp and have been communicated widely for many years]. I decided, therefore, to look for reports and data related to the apparel industry.

Part 1 – The Industrial Process

The research for information on carbon emission in the apparel industry led to a very insightful report entitled “Measuring Fashion – Environmental Impact of the Apparel and Footwear Industries”. The study was issued in 2018 and was produced by Quantis with the support of SAC, LVMH, Hugo Boss, C&A Foundation. It was a comprehensive assessment and, although based on several assumptions due to lack of data or the need to look at the broad picture, it contains a number of critical insights and recommendation for anyone working in the industry. The study, based on LCA, looked into the apparel and footwear industries’ impacts throughout the entire value chain – from raw material extraction and processing to end-of-life processes and transportation. In-use data, though, were not included because of high variability in consumer behaviour around the world [As research studies report that the in-use phase has the most significant impact over the whole product lifecycle I will look at this aspect in a second blog post]. The report indicates that, in 2016, the apparel and footwear industries together generated an estimated 8.1% of global climate impacts with 3,990 million metric tons of CO2eq produced. This number is much higher than the figure generally reported in the Ellen MacArthur Foundation report “A New Textile Economy – Redesigning Fashion’s Future”of 1.2 Gt CO2eq (1,200 million metric tons ) and I’ll need to look for other sources to get at the bottom of such a discrepancy. A quick look at the tables and assumptions gives few insights though. When looking at the assumptions for the two studies, Quantis’ report includes carbon emissions due to transport at each stage of the value chain and the distribution phase (from assembly/manufacturing to retail), while these parameters seem not to be included in the Ellen MacArthur Foundation (EMF) report. Another big difference is in the quantities used for the calculations, with the EMF report using a total of 71 million tonnes Vs. the 90 million tonnes of the Quantis’ report.  

Credit: Ly
Photo: https://unsplash.com/@lidyanada

Notwithstanding the differences in the numbers both reports indicate clearly that the Fashion Industry is a highly inefficient industry whose volumes – and with it resources consumptions – are skyrocketing because of a growing middle-class across the globe and increase per capita sales in mature economies (mainly driven by the fast fashion phenomenon). Data are quite shocking. In the last 15 years, clothing production has approximately doubled while clothing utilization has decreased by 36 per cent (Ellen MacArthur Foundation). Quantis’ report indicates that the global consumption of fibre materials reached 11.4 kg per capita in 2016 with a big gap between developed economies and developing economies. The United States has the highest demand for apparel fibres, amounting to 37.6 kg per capita, followed closely by Europe (31.21 kg) and China (1.08 kg). The GHG emissions associated with the relative consumptions are 1,450 kg of CO2eq for USA*, 1,210 kilograms of CO2eq and 41.8 kilograms of CO2eq for China. [*equivalent to 2 return flights NY-San Francisco]. Assuming an annual economic growth rate of 3.7% for the apparel fibre market (Orbichem, 2014) the projected climate change impact for 2030 would be of a 49 per cent increase vs the 2016 baseline. Quantis suggests that, in order to meet the objective of remaining below 2 degrees global warming, the apparel and footwear industries should focus on renewable energy and energy efficiency across their supply chains, while the Ellen MacArthur Foundation sets a vision for a new textiles economy where “clothes, fabric, and fibres are kept at their highest value during use, and re-enter the economy after use, never ending up as waste”.

Source: Ellen MacArthur Foundation

My view is that all the above actions have to be prioritised as none of them alone will be sufficient to lead the fashion Industry to achieve net zero emissions by 2050, a target that cannot be missed to align with the Paris Agreement objectives. The same view is expressed in the  Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Actionthat was launched at COP24 in Katowice, Poland. The document signed initially by 43 industry leaders (brands, industry associations, raw material producers, logistics company Maersk and NGOs ) identified ways in which the broader textile, clothing and fashion industry can move towards a holistic commitment to climate action. Among key elements of the Charter we find: the commitment to 30 per cent aggregate GHG emission reductions by 2030; the commitment to analyzing and setting a decarbonization pathway for the fashion industry drawing on methodologies from the Science-Based Targets Initiative; the commitment to prioritizing materials with low-climate impact and to continuously pursue energy efficiency measures and renewable energy in the value chain; the commitment to a closer dialogue with consumers to raise awareness and build towards changed consumer behaviours that reduce environmental impacts and extend the useful life of products; and the commitment to partner with the finance community and policymakers to catalyse scalable solutions for a low-carbon economy throughout the sector.

The challenges are immense. Shifting the production of coal-dependent countries such as China and India to renewable energy will not be possible without revised coal transition strategies and changes in policy. Externalities of coal should be internalised to promote energy transition so that clean energy can gain competitiveness compared with coal. At the same time, central governments would need to economically help local governments establish new industries and manage the social impact on low-income workers. On the efficiency front, technology-induced supply chain efficiencies and automatization may lead to job loss and social consequences. Finally, the increasing consumption of an emergent middle-class and a growing global population will have to be stabilized by new business models (e.g. clothing as a service), durable designs, a radical change in our attitude towards the clothes we own and policies and incentives to a circular economy. It is challenging as everything that relates to climate change! I want to end this blog post with a video that I found both inspiring and encouraging…because there is hope for a better fashion industry!

Sustainability Leadership Opportunity _Chapter 2

In my previous post, I spoke about how blogging represents for me a Sustainability Leadership Opportunity. Now, given I am asked to pick up another one for the two years that I am on the Master in Sustainability Leadership programme, I have decided – coherently with the topic I have chosen for my dissertation –  that my sustainability opportunity will be to move to a ‘100% sustainable wardrobe’. 

Why is this a significant challenge to take on?

Few facts:

–    Total greenhouse gas emissions from textiles production is estimated to be 1.2 billion tonnes annually, more than those of all international flights and maritime shipping combined

–    In the UK, around 300,000 tonnes of textile waste ends up in household black bins every year, sent to landfill or incinerators 

–    It is estimated that more than half of fast fashion produced is disposed of in under a year.

–    The average lifetime for a garment is estimated to be about 2.2 years, roughly half of what it used to be in 2000

–    Clothing utilisation has decreased by 36% compared to 15 years ago. In the US clothes are worn for around a quarter of the global average.

–     It can take 2,700 litres of water to produce the cotton needed to make a single t-shirt, enough for one person to drink for 900 days

–    Less than 1% of the material used to produce clothing is recycled into new clothing representing a loss of more than USD 100 billion worth of materials each year

–    Synthetic microfibers are being found in the deep sea, in Arctic sea ice, fish and shellfish 

–    Forced labour is used to pick cotton in two of the world’s biggest cotton producing countries, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

–    In Bangladesh, last January one worker was killed and 50 others injured after police fired rubber bullets and tear gas at some 5,000 workers protesting over low wages

(sources: A new textiles economy: redesigning fashion’s future by Ellen MacArthur Foundation; The State of Fashion 2019 by McKinsey and BOF; FIXING FASHION: clothing consumption and sustainability by House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee: Bangladesh strikes: thousands of garment workers clash with police over poor pay by the Guardian)

Photo by Marianne Krohn on Unsplash

This data is shocking and indicate the urgent need for transforming the industry and the way we consume fashion.  

What does it mean for me?

The above information and the many articles I read weekly on the topic led me to reconsider the way I shop for fashion. Although I have made already a few steps in the right direction – I did not buy clothes/shoes for many months, I wash my clothes with short cycles and at low temperature, I do not tumble dry nor iron my clothes, I gave away clothes I was not using to charities – there is much more I can do.

There are three areas I would like to focus on:

1. Build a repertoire of sustainable brands to shop from

2. Learn how to mend and repair my clothes. Even learn how to knit some of my clothes/accessories!

3. Reduce of 1/3 my wardrobe by giving away everything I have not used for a quite some time and organising one swap event with friends a year (which has the benefit of talking to them about fashion waste and nudge them to buy less!)

In the following months, I will report on this blog on my progress, learnings, challenges, frustrations and successes. And hopefully, inspire other people to join me on the journey!

Photo by Giulia Bertelli on Unsplash