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What’s the issue?

According to the Ellen Macarthur Foundation, “every second, the equivalent of a rubbish truck load of clothes is burnt or buried in landfill.” The foundation promotes a circular fashion economy, one that creates products to be used more with high durability and repairability, made again through recycling the materials and made from safe and recycled or renewable inputs for safer production and reduced environmental impact. 

The Fashion on Climate report by McKinsey & Company and Global Fashion Agenda reports 4% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are attributed to the fashion industry. In 2018, over 70% of emissions from apparel and footwear were produced by upstream activities such as raw material production, preparation, and processing. The other 30% were produced from downstream activities like transport, packaging, retail operations, usage, and end-of-use. Under current operations, the fashion industry would miss the 1.5-degree pathway goal by 50%. 

Why does it matter?

The Paris Agreement in 2016 created the limit global warming limit goal of 1.5ºC compared to pre-industrial temperatures. The goal of 1.5ºC was set based on current knowledge of climate response. The consequences of climate change have already begun, including increased land and ocean temperatures, increased frequency of heatwaves, increased frequency and intensity of heavy precipitation events, and increased drought risk in the Mediterranean region. 

Climate change threatens the safety, well-being, and habitability of the earth for current and future generations. While everyone is affected by climate change, some groups are disproportionately impacted by climate change, calling for action against social injustices, and trends that can be seen now and will further be exacerbated in the future. 

To learn more about the 1.5ºC goal, read the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) special report Global Warming of 1.5ºC

What needs to happen?

The Fashion on Climate report details an accelerated abatement for the fashion industry to be put on the 1.5-degree pathway. The three main areas to achieve this:

  • Reducing emissions from upstream operations
  • Reducing emissions from brands’ own operations
  • Encouraging sustainable consumer behaviors

Upstream operations must decarbonize material production, processing, and garment manufacturing; and minimize production and manufacturing wastage. 

Brands’ own operations must improve the material mix, increase sustainable transport, improve packaging, decarbonize retail operations, and reduce overproduction. 

Encouraging sustainable consumer behavior includes circular business models, reduced washing and drying, and increased recycling and collection.

What can I do?

Changing the fashion industry’s environmental impact requires the fashion industry itself to change, but you play a part as a consumer.

  • Quality over quantity: buy apparel and footwear that is durable and will last a long time if you are able to cover the upfront costs.
  • Buy second-hand clothing from thrift stores or hand-me-downs from friends and family.
  • Reuse fabric from old clothing to patch holes in clothes or make new items like blankets, sheets, and pillowcases from them.
  • Support brands that share your values. Support sustainable and ethical brands and advocate for more sustainable and fair working conditions.
  • Rent clothes. Renting fancy clothes that you’ll only wear once anyway can save you money as well.
  • Share clothes with friends and family. You don’t have to sacrifice style for sustainability.

These are just a few of the many ways that you can do your part to help reduce your environmental impact in the fashion industry. Next time you’re shopping for new clothes, try to be mindful of what you need and how it impacts the environment.