What Energy Consumption Looks Like for the Fashion Industry
Today, the anxiety around climate change is no longer a niche conversation being had amongst a select few. Regardless of age, background or scientific interest, there has been collective awareness around carbon emissions and the impact our daily routines have on the environment.
From the foods we eat to our transportation, with the help of informative discourse, we are starting to re-approach our day to day lives to aid a better tomorrow. Thanks to documentaries Food Inc., What the Health and The True Cost (we could continue the list), the once private processes behind the things we consume is now available, inviting us to value the power of transparency in making conscious decisions.
Within the fashion, Andrew Morgan’s The True Cost illustrates the problematic behaviors from agriculture to production, that consume the most energy. Today, if the industry was a country it would be the 6th largest emitter of greenhouses gases, behind China, the US, the European Union, India, and Russia (2). With processes like textile production and the manufacturing of clothes, high levels of energy are required to satisfy the fast-paced, dynamic system.
Fashion’s Contribution to Carbon Emissions
Emissions equivalent to 372 million cars driving for one year, this dynamic system is reaping havoc on ecosystems on land and atmospheric health above (2). By 2030, if the industry continues operating on trend, emissions from production are set to rise 60% reaching an estimated 2.8 billion tons of CO 2 and increasing global CO 2 contribution by 50% (5).
To break down how this impact collects, let’s look at the basic supply chain of a garment:
Crop Production: To bring seed to life, fuels are used for machinery to plough and harvest crops to later become fabric (2).
Fiber Production: From crop-to-fabric there are three major steps which each consume their own heavy portion of energy. Spinning requiring 54%, weaving requiring 23% and Chemical processing requiring 38%. Ultimately, the remaining 5% is allocated for miscellaneous practices (6).
Garment Production: The most common power source for factory machinery, cooling and temperature control systems, lighting and office equipment is energy. Oil on the other hand “is used to fuel boilers to generate steam, as well as liquified petroleum, gas, coal and city gas” (2). Not to mention oil is the base of certain synthetic fibers like polyester which dominate of 65% of fabrics used (2).
Distribution: By the time the garment is created and ready to be sold, it is sent via the use freight transportation which is set to triple by 2040. Globalized production, competition and fast fashion demand have paved good business for international trade and poor health for marine and air life.
Consumer’s Contribution to Carbon Emissions
Though the impact doesn’t stop once the garment makes it to the retailer. In fact, around 50% of CO 2 from the industry occurs at the consumer end. From wearing, washing, tumble drying, ironing and dry-cleaning clothes (mostly in North America, the European Union, and Japan), the way we love our clothes has impact (2).
In order for change to be made to prevent further impact and slow down rise of the Earth’s temperature, manufacturers, brands, and consumers need to generate collective awareness to understand our impact. If implemented well, improved energy management in the industry could net a potential value of €63 million (5). That’s a win for industry costs and environmental health.
“For me, a way bigger challenge and excitement is actually looking at my industry and saying, ‘You know what? I’m gonna try and do it in a way that is not as harmful to the planet.’” – Stella McCartney, The True Cost
High Fashion Brands Committed to Low Impact Production
Currently, it takes 132 million tons of coal and 6-9 trillion liters of water to produce 60 billion kilograms of textiles (3). Aware of this hyper-consumption of energy, modern and innovative brands like EILEEN FISHER, Indigenous, Patagonia, and Stella McCartney, have committed to challenging the fashion industry to do better in a unique way. “For me, a way bigger challenge and excitement is actually looking at my industry and saying, ‘You know what? I’m gonna try and do it in a way that is not as harmful to the planet” shares Stella McCartney founder of Stella McCartney (4). These various brands have implemented systems to reduce their impact and conserve energy whenever possible, transforming the industry as we see it today.
Indigenous, home of organic and fair-trade fashion, continues to report their annual impact since their pact to sustainability 24 years ago. For 2018 Indigenous has saved 45,600 lbs of CO2, 13 million gallons of water, kept 400 lbs of pesticides off land and employed 1,000 artisans. Within their collection’s consumers can pick from their chemical-free line knowns as their PURE Collection, organic cotton, sustainable alpaca cool, closed loop produced Tencel and garments using only low-impact dyes (Indigenous).
EILEEN FISHER’s traditional foundation based upon environmental and social responsibility has flourished to commit to circular fashion by 2020, introducing EILEEN FISHER Renew in 2017. A new system inviting customers to give back their old EILEEN FISHERS wear in exchange for a monetary reward or “turn them into one-of-a-kind designs” (EILEEN FISHER). Offering gently worn pieces, the brand has gone beyond their original model to increase product life and set a new standard without waste and extra consumption.
The originators of fashion committed to Climate Change, Patagonia, upholds their mission to “build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis” in their daily operations (Patagonia). Beyond offering innovative products and combating microplastic pollution, they disclose their Footprint Chronicles offering transparency of where, who and the impact of their suppliers. Committed to environmental and social initiatives and Worn Repair, their level of accountability drives energy efficient processes and ethical behavior out of awareness and understanding of company and supply chain influence.
Arising ‘Materials and Innovation’, Stella McCartney offers products sourced from sustainably managed Viscose, organic cotton, vegetarian leather, fur free fur, naturally biodegradable wool and much more. In using the Environmental Profit and Loss tool the brand has distinguish production of raw materials as their main driver of impact. Engaging in various projects like Clean by Design and Circularity the brand has explored options outside of their sourcing practices to pioneer new solutions (Stella McCartney).
Do More At Home
Thanks to brands like these, we as consumers are given the power to make decisions to reflect our values when shopping and seek out transparency in doing so. The dichotomy between brand and consumer are still vast, but our impacts are both great.
“At Patagonia, we hate the word ‘consumers’…We prefer customers…who recognize the impact of their consumption. They recognize…they’re part of the problem” Rick Ridgway, The True Cost
As end-consumers, we must consider more sustainable practices when caring for our clothes and recognize we account for half of the industry’s carbon footprint. Simply changing the way we wash our clothes can re-establish the 40% of microfibers that are passed through filters in wastewater treatments plants and into the ocean (1). These microplastics can absorb toxic chemicals found in water and sewage sludge and eventually transfer them to plants, animals and humans via the food chain.
So next time we go to wash our clothes, consider the following to reduce our impact:
Air drying – this saves energy and money on your bill!
Drying time – if we don’t have the option to air dry make sure our loads are full and separate our light form heavy fabrics to prevent misgauged time and over-drying.
Cold vs. Hot – not all clothes require they be washed in hot temperatures and by washing with cold water we reduce the need to heat water
Wash less – of course we don’t need consider every time we wear something as dirty. Unless we put in a good sweat, wore it for the whole day or spilled something, a good sniff test is always a good indicator.
Remember there is a cost for everything and the true cost of fashion doesn’t just impact the environment and suppliers, but our behavior as well. By continuing to educate ourselves on the logistics and impact of the industry, what our consumption means and solutions we can implement daily, we can transform the projection of climate change and restore the environment.
Brought by Dhana Inc.