The Fashion Industry Needs to Reduce Its Carbon Footprint | Industry Insights | All MKC Content | ANA

The Fashion Industry Needs to Reduce Its Carbon Footprint

By Dominick Fils-Aimé

Current trends in fashion consumption and production cannot be maintained if the industry wants to reduce its carbon footprint. The manufacturing and logistic practices of clothing brands and their supply chain partners have environmental implications that amount to four percent of global emissions.

Decisions related to product design, garment composition and manufacturing, and fiber production also have downstream effects resulting in vast quantities of synthetic garments ending up on open landfills, waterways, and open seas.

With this in mind, the Hot or Cool Institute, a nonprofit think tank dedicated to creating a sustainable society, released a report highlighting the environmental impact of the fashion industry. The report also offered solutions to help brands and consumers reduce their carbon footprint by 2030.

The Climate Cost of Fashion Consumption

The frantic pace of fast fashion is contributing to the pollution of the Earth's soil, air, and water. In Europe, the consumption of clothing, footwear, and household textiles is the fourth largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, trailing only housing, transport, and food. If no action is taken, the fashion sector will be emitting an estimated 2.7 billion tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) in 2030. Today, 70 percent of CO2e emissions occur during the production and processing stage while 20 percent of emissions are generated during the use phase.

How Consumers and Brands Can Slow Down Fashion's Carbon Footprint

Sufficient approaches consumers can take to reduce the fashion sectors carbon footprint include:

  • Reducing the purchase of new clothing
  • A shift toward more sustainable clothing options (such as buying secondhand garments)
  • Increasing use times
  • Reducing washing and drying
  • Responsible disposing

For brands, adopting a circular business model, based on recycling, upcycling and reuse can help reduce CO2e emissions. These approaches include enabling consumers to share or lease garments, and leveraging more efficient technology across a company's supply chain.

Solutions for brands trying to reduce their emissions throughout the upstream production stage, and across brand and retail operations include:

  • Decarbonizing material production and material processing
  • Minimizing production and manufacturing waste
  • Decarbonizing garment production
  • Efficiency improvements such as switching to less carbon intensive fibers
  • Increasing the use of sustainable transport and packaging
  • Minimizing returns to limit emissions associated with transport
  • Decarbonizing retail operations
  • Reducing overproduction by optimizing demand forecasting and stock management technologies
  • Increasing the use of renewable energy across the fashion value chain

If decarbonization efforts are accelerated, emissions from upstream production and brand and retail operations could be reduced by 1.3 billion tons worldwide.

The Role of Fashion Advertising and Media

Major fashion brands and publications have the potential to transform fashion trends and consumer demand through advertising and the promotion of sustainable options and consumption habits. Popular apparel companies also have the power to determine which products are produced, how they are manufactured, and which products are promoted to consumers and corporations. They can also influence consumer demand through advertising.

The views and opinions expressed are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the ANA or imply endorsement from the ANA.

Dominick Fils-Aimé is a manager of editorial and content development at ANA.