Sus­tain­abil­ity in the fash­ion in­dus­try faces an up­hill climb

Antelope Valley Press - - Business - By LIZZIE KNIGHT As­so­ci­ated Press

LON­DON — Sus­tain­abil­ity in fash­ion is a hot but­ton topic, with re­tail­ers large and small rac­ing to prove their green cre­den­tials, but the de­sire for new at­tire churns and the in­dus­try re­mains one of the world’s largest pol­luters as cli­mate ac­tivists and watch­dogs sound alarms.

The in­dus­try is the sec­ond largest con­sumer of water and is re­spon­si­ble for 8-10% of global car­bon emis­sions, more than all in­ter­na­tional flights and mar­itime ship­ping com­bined, ac­cord­ing to the United Na­tions En­vi­ron­ment Pro­gram.

“So, for ex­am­ple, it would take 13 years to drink the water that is used to make one pair of jeans and one T-shirt,” said Fee Gil­feather, a sus­tain­abil­ity ex­pert at the non­profit OX­FAM. “It’s just an in­cred­i­ble amount of en­vi­ron­men­tal re­sources that are re­quired for mak­ing the cloth­ing that we wear.”

Harm­ful chem­i­cals, global trans­port of goods and non-biodegrad­able pack­ag­ing add to the en­vi­ron­men­tal cost. The com­bined im­pact has put the in­dus­try un­der scru­tiny among con­sumers who want to know where — and how — their clothes are pro­duced. They’re de­mand­ing eth­i­cal prac­tices and re­spon­si­ble re­tail­ing.

Some man­u­fac­tur­ers and re­tail­ers have found in­no­va­tive so­lu­tions, both large and small.

At the high end of the mar­ket, de­sign­ers are keen to make sus­tain­able fash­ion syn­ony­mous with lux­ury. In 2015, a sus­tain­abil­ity re­port by Nielsen found that 66% of con­sumers are will­ing to pay more for en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly cloth­ing. At the low, fast fash­ion end of the in­dus­try, prom­ises have been made.

In­di­tex, the re­tail gi­ant that owns Zara, H&M and many other brands, an­nounced a sus­tain­abil­ity pledge in July, say­ing it wants all its clothes to be made from sus­tain­able or re­cy­cled fab­rics by 2025.

In ad­di­tion, the global fash­ion sec­tor ad­dressed cli­mate change by launch­ing the Fash­ion In­dus­try Char­ter for Cli­mate Ac­tion at the COP24 cli­mate con­fer­ence in Ka­tow­ice in De­cem­ber 2018. Lead­ing fash­ion brands, re­tail­ers, sup­plier or­ga­ni­za­tions, a ma­jor ship­ping com­pany and global NGO WWF In­ter­na­tional have agreed to col­lec­tively ad­dress the cli­mate im­pact of the in­dus­try across sec­tors. Pa­tri­cia Espinosa, the ex­ec­u­tive sec­re­tary for UN Cli­mate Change, said the char­ter comes at a time when “we needed it most.” The char­ter rec­og­nizes the cru­cial role of fash­ion as a con­trib­u­tor to green­house gas emis­sions, with mul­ti­ple op­por­tu­ni­ties to re­duce emis­sions. It hopes to achieve net zero emis­sions by 2050 and notes a num­ber of is­sues: de­car­boniza­tion of the pro­duc­tion phase; selec­tion of cli­mate friendly and sus­tain­able ma­te­ri­als; the need for low-car­bon trans­port; and im­prov­ing con­sumer di­a­logue and aware­ness.

The scale of the char­ter is vast, but ac­tivists are up against be­he­moths at times.

In Bri­tain, the En­vi­ron­men­tal Au­dit Com­mit­tee re­ported on the prob­lem ear­lier this year and found that the U.K. buys more clothes than any other coun­try in Europe, throw­ing away 1 mil­lion tonnes an­nu­ally with over 661,000,000 pounds go­ing to in­cin­er­a­tors or land­fills. The EAC, chaired by Mem­ber of Par­lia­ment Mary Creagh, con­cluded that fash­ion re­tail­ers should take re­spon­si­bil­ity for the clothes they sell. The Com­mit­tee called for a pro­ducer re­spon­si­bil­ity scheme for tex­tiles, which would add a small amount to the cost of each item, rais­ing money to in­vest in re­cy­cling cen­ters to di­vert cloth­ing from land­fills and in­cin­er­a­tion. The Bri­tish govern­ment, then led by Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May, re­jected all the com­mit­tee’s pro­pos­als, much to the dis­may of Fash­ion Rev­o­lu­tion, a global move­ment calling for greater trans­parency, sus­tain­abil­ity and ethics in the fash­ion in­dus­try.

“That set us back 20 years at the very, very least. It is in­ex­cus­able and frankly, un­for­giv­able,” said the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s cre­ative di­rec­tor and co-founder, Or­sola De Cas­tro.

The in­dus­try has other prob­lems as well. It has been ac­cused of un­eth­i­cal la­bor prac­tices, though the tide be­gan to turn af­ter the Rana Plaza dis­as­ter in 2013, when an eight-story build­ing con­tain­ing a gar­ment fac­tory in Dhaka, Ban­gledesh, col­lapsed and killed 1,134 peo­ple.

As­so­ci­ated Press

This April 10, 2012, file photo shows the pro­duc­tion de­part­ment at fash­ion gi­ant In­di­tex’s head­quar­ters where Zara fash­ion gar­ments are de­signed in La Coruna, Spain.

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