How the fashion industry and climate change are connected

Ric Porteus

Ric Porteus

Image of a cotton field, linking large scale farming for the fashion industry to climate change

One of our student contributors discusses how the fashion industry and climate change are connected. Explaining how the industry is one of the leading contributors to climate change. We’ll discuss how fashion brands are taking accountability for climate change, naming and talking about those that are taking action. We’ll particularly focus on fashion giant H & M group who is committed to dealing with climate change by seeking 100% renewable power during production and distribution.

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Image of a Levi's jacket being work by a model, lijnking Levi's as a brand trying to better the fashion industry and climate change

How are the fashion industry and climate change connected? 

A topic that has become a heated headline – excuse the pun – is how the fashion industry and climate change are connected. The fashion industry now the second biggest polluting industry in the world, after oil. 

The demand for fast fashion has grown drastically within the last 10 years, where consumers feel it is a necessity. Statistics and research, from a report by WWF, inform us how a singular cotton shirt uses more the 2700 litres of water to produce. This means that approximately 15,000 litres are used for just one kilogram of cotton.

This is only one example. If we take a closer look at climate change there are five main issues being addressed in the fashion industry. These are Energy and climate, Water consumption, Land use, natural Vs synthetic fibres, short lifecycles (fast fashion) and waste or lack of recycling. 

Accountability is happening with some brands reviewing their working practises

With that being said, we can see how the fashion industry has taken accountability for their actions. Particularly in how they are implementing innovative ways to produce clothes sustainably. Such as using less water, reducing their quantity, using environmentally-friendly materials and avoiding excessive transportation.

Therefore, sustainability should not be classified as another consumer trend that will outdate in the next two years, it should be the future of fashion. Brands that are sustainable, accounting for the complete lifecycle of a product. From the concept and design to sourcing, production and packaging. Focused on everything and everyone being effected (externally and internally). This includes not only the production factors but also the environment, the workers and communities where production takes place.

Image of Burberry being worn by a model

Some big names are successfully climate change or improving awareness

There are a number of brands that are successfully tackling climate change and increasing climate awareness. Notable brands with strategies to counter climate change are Levi’s, Adidas, Eileen Fisher, Burberry, Ralph Lauren, H&M Group and the PVH Corporation. All these brands are successfully increasing climate awareness with their innovative approaches.

Levi’s has consciously contributed to investing in renewable and more efficient energy sources. They published ‘The Life Cycle of A Jean’ detailing the environmental impact per pair of jeans it manufactured back in 2015.   In September, they launched their Autumn/Winter 2019 collection, which included a new approach to materials development. This collection used eco-friendly materials such as cottonised hemp, a cotton blend and rain-fed which they claim to use less water and chemicals. It also used a specialised water-efficient finishing process.

Burberry takes initiative with it’s Better Cotton and leatherwork

Burberry, a British fashion house, is a global retailer and manufacturer – with over 10 000 employees. They have set goals that will allow them to procure 100% of its electricity from renewable sources to power the whole business by 2022. Swiftly achieving this, 58% of their total energy is obtained from renewables. In 2012, an independent assessment identified that Burberry’s environmental impact was produced during the production of raw material.

Since then, Burberry took the initiative to set goals to source all of its cottons through the Better Cotton Initiative and leather from tanneries which included environmental, traceability and social compliance certificates. Within the last year, the luxury fashion brand has produced garments containing Econyl – nylon made from recycled fishing nets and other waste. In addition, they’ve integrated materials made from volcanic sand, coconut shells and recycled wool and cashmere in their collections.

Dashboard of the 2030 goal, helping the fashion industry and climate change picture to change

H & M achieves significant improvements in its manufacturing and distribution network

Swedish fast-fashion brand, H&M Group has also committed to 100% renewable power. They already secured 90% of their electricity is already sourced from renewables. A key component of the H&M Group’s sustainable business growth is to transition to renewable power and smarter usage of energy. They have already planned to consciously invest in innovative, energy-saving technologies to build stores using 40% less energy than ones constructed today. The H&M group have also, installed LED lighting in new stores and retrofitting and updating heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems.

Find out more about climate change and why the fashion industry, amongst many others, is needed in global rainforest protection. 

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