Week 46: Carbon Emissions – Clothing

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Going back to carbon emissions, there is one other industry I would like to discuss that is a dominant contributor in this area: clothing and footwear. According to an article that was published in Business Insider, current global trends in the clothing industry are drastically going in the wrong direction. Examples include the fact that:

  • Compared to 2000, people bought 60% more clothing in 2014.
  • People only kept clothing for half as long in 2014 compared to 2000.
  • Enough clothes to fill a garbage truck are burned or sent to the landfill every second.
  • The total volume of textiles disposed annually could fill Sydney harbor (Australia).

In a report titled Fashion on Climate (McKinsey & Company), it is estimated that the clothing and footwear industries produced more than 2.1 billion tons of greenhouse gases in 2018 (4% of overall global emissions), which exceeds that year’s combined total emissions from the countries of France, Germany, and the UK. Other estimates are even higher with the entire fashion industry contributing up to 10% of the world’s emissions. As you may remember from the chart I included in an article from Week 35, almost all of these emissions are produced in countries outside of the United States, though any time we purchase clothing or footwear we are indirectly contributing. But what can we do since we all need to buy clothes? The report suggests that two big components of bringing emissions down are more sustainable practices during materials production, processing, and garment manufacturing and the promotion of more sustainable consumer behavior. The question then becomes “what constitutes more sustainable practices and consumer behavior in relation to the clothing industry?”

Top priority should be the same as with all other consumer products: reduce consumption and waste. With regard to clothing and footwear, lower consumption involves the 4 “R’s”: rental, reuse, repair, and recycling, or anything that reduces how much we purchase to own and how much we throw away. On the other hand, no matter how much we follow this philosophy, we will eventually still need to purchase clothing. When doing so look for companies that make an effort to follow sustainable and ethical production and distribution practices. There are a variety of ways that companies can accomplish this, a few of which are listed below:

  • using recycled post-consumer and plastic materials (e.g. recycled plastic bottles)
  • using ethically-sourced and sustainable materials (e.g. cork, coconut, recycled polyester, etc.)
  • fostering strong relationships with factory owners to ensure products are produced in ethical factories
  • contributing to the environment (e.g. planting a tree) for each item sold
  • using materials other than denim or cotton in order to minimize water usage
  • helping customers to repair used clothing
  • following fair trade practices
  • promoting equality

Examples of companies (gathered from by Forbes, USA Today, and The Good Trade) that follow at least some of these practices include the following:

  • Patagonia
  • Levi’s
  • Everlane (I have purchased several items from this company due to their commitment to environmental sustainability and ethical factories.)
  • REI Co-op
  • ABLE
  • Rothy’s
  • Tentree
  • Pact
  • H&M Conscious
  • Reformation
  • Amour Vert
  • Eileen Fisher
  • People Tree
  • Organic Basics
  • Outerknown
  • Vetta
  • Boden
  • EcoVibe
  • Cuyana
  • Threads 4 Thought
  • Allbirds
  • Athleta

Objective

The next time that you need to buy new clothes, consider purchasing from one of the companies listed above. Also try to purchase higher quality items as they will last longer and the materials are likely to be easier to recycle (as opposed to hybrid polyester and cotton blends).

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