Inact

Are clothing manufacturers’ green initiatives just window dressing?

  1. Why is fast fashion a key driver of climate change?
  2. Are there other ecological consequences of fast fashion?
  3. Are recycling and other sustainability initiatives enough?
  4. What does Greenpeace want fashion companies to do?
Samuel Webb
Tuesday 23 November 2021 13:59
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<p>Fast fashion has devastating effects on the climate</p>
<p>Fast fashion has devastating effects on the climate</p>(Greenpeace)

Greenpeace says clothing companies must face tighter regulation if they are to reduce the devastating impact of the global fashion industry.

The fashion industry is the second-largest polluter in the world, just after the oil industry, thanks to its intensive use of chemicals, fossil fuels, and water.

Greenpeace Germany’s new report – Self regulation: a fashion fairytale – assessed 29 leading brands, including Nike, Adidas, H&M, G-Star and Primark and asserts that the voluntary sustainability commitments adopted by many fashion firms are nowhere near enough to “change the destructive trajectory of fast fashion”.

  1. Why is fast fashion a key driver of climate change?

    A 2021 report by a coalition of green groups accused the global fashion industry of developing a "dangerous addiction" to synthetic fibres made from fossil fuels in order to supply shoppers with rapidly increasing quantities of throwaway clothing.

    Fossil Fashion: The Hidden Reliance of Fashion on Fossil Fuels, says the use of synthetic fibres, especially polyester, has doubled in textiles in the last 20 years.

    The research revealed some brands are now releasing as many as 20 collections per year and people are buying 60% more clothes than 15 years ago, but wearing them for half as long. Global fashion production is also expected to leap from 62 million tonnes in 2015 to 102 million tonnes in 2030.

    “Not many consumers are aware that fast fashion is fossil fashion," says Urska Trunk, campaign manager at the Changing Markets Foundation.

    "The addiction of fashion brands to cheap polyester and other oil-derived fibres is coming at a time when the world is moving away from fossil fuels.

    "But instead of moving away from synthetic fibres, which are causing an ecological disaster, brands want you to think they’ve got this under control and that they can keep producing ever more clothes.”

    Another major source of water contamination is the use of fertilisers for cotton production, which heavily pollutes runoff waters and evaporation waters.

  2. Are there other ecological consequences of fast fashion?

    Clothing factories in developing countries dump harmful chemicals such as dyes and bleaches into waterways.

    And polyester, which accounts for 85 per cent of the synthetic fibres used in clothing, is a major source of microfibre pollution.

    Effluent from garment factories flow into the Caledon (Mahokare) River in Lesotho

    The health consequences are still emerging, but microfibres are known to harm sea creatures.

    Laura Diaz Sanchez, campaigner at the Plastic Soup Foundation, said: “We are already eating and breathing what we are wearing because our clothes are constantly shedding microfibres.

    “Since microfibres do not break down naturally, we are going to have to live with them forever.

    "This could have devastating consequences for our health, but it also effectively saddles our future generations with a problem that the fast fashion industry has the tools to solve."

  3. Are recycling and other sustainability initiatives enough?

    Major manufacturers have introduced pledges and initiatives to reduce their carbon footprint.

    Nike, for example, has pledged to reduce its carbon emissions in owned and operated facilities by 65 per cent, to recycle or donate 10 times the amount of post-consumer waste, and to increase the use of environmentally preferred materials to 50 per cent by 2025.

    However, Greenpeace says many of these sustainability initiatives either are inadequate or an attempt at ‘greenwashing’ – where corporations celebrate their ethical and environmental initiatives in advertising and PR to placate consumers and divert attention from more dubious activities.

    For example, H&M’s World Recycling Week, in which their aim was to collect and recycle 1,000 tonnes of used clothing, was heavily criticised as an “illusion” of what true sustainability is as only one per cent of collected clothing can be used as recycled fibres.

    Viola Woghlemuth, consumption campaigner at Greenpeace Germany, said: “Instead of offering hope to their young customers by taking bold, transparent action to change the fast fashion system, more often than not, fashion brands are marketing ‘sustainability’ initiatives which do not go far enough, or even worse, resorting to greenwashing with claims of recycled and recyclable clothing.

    “This window dressing creates the illusion that something is being done, and encourages guilt-free overconsumption.”

    Many manufacturers have made lasting and impactful change, such as Gore Fabrics, the maker of GORE-TEX and a market leader in weatherproofing, who developed a new membrane for its consumer outdoor clothing products that is completely free of harmful PFC chemicals.

  4. What does Greenpeace want fashion companies to do?

    Greenpeace is calling on lawmakers to apply regulations to the entire fashion sector.

    “Corporate supply chain responsibility should not be a ‘nice to have’, but the cornerstone of EU regulations that aim to bring the impacts of the fashion industry to within environmental boundaries – and prevent catastrophic effects,” added Wohlgemuth.

    “Without binding regulation, global fashion brands will continue tinkering at the edges of the destructive fast fashion business model while the volumes of clothes being made and consumed continue to increase.

    “We need to change the system. Fast fashion will never be green.”  

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