Work Out Your Energy Footprint
Understanding a brand’s energy footprint is not only critical to helping founders create a green business; but it also can help the business thrive while making a positive contribution through streamlined costs, reduced CO2 outputs and a more positive social impact.
The fashion industry itself is now actively working to encourage businesses to go “green” and reduce their energy footprint. One recent effort is Fashion SWITCH to Green, a joint initiative from the British Fashion Council, Vivienne Westwood and the Mayor of London, and part of the BFC’s Positive Fashion Initiative. This programme asks fashion businesses to commit to SWITCHing offices and stores to a green electricity supplier by 2020, in line with the Paris Agreement within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, whose goal is to prevent what scientists regard as dangerous and irreversible levels of climate change.
Understanding the Impact of your Supply Chain
The supply chain for clothing can be long and complex which, along with the wide range of possible environmental concerns, makes understanding clothing’s embodied impact difficult. A 2009 Carbon Trust study, launched a carbon reduction label, stating the garment’s lifecycle carbon footprint, as well as the brand’s commitment to further reductions over a two-year period.
The Carbon Trust study, which focused on a men’s large white T-shirt, calculated that it is responsible for 6.5kg CO2e, the majority of which is from farming (raw materials) and spinning. Considering that a T-shirt alone requires five times its end weight in raw cotton to produce, it is clear how farming can have such a large impact in the lifecycle.
The study also found that by switching to renewable energy in the manufacturing process as opposed to using electricity from the grid reduced emissions by ~90%. Energy emissions also be reduced by ~15-20% through efficiencies in the spinning and finishing stages. Building larger vessels to treat water and wastewater produced from dyes is expected to reduce emissions by ~20%. Also, reviewing alternatives for dyeing, including new technologies with lower energy consumption and organic dyestuffs, could reduce emission by a further ~20%.
A. The Unknowable Social Impact
The fashion industry has been associated with social issues such as the use of child labour and appalling working conditions in “sweatshops”. As a Channel 4 documentary, Dispatches: Fashion’s Dirty Secret, revealed, sweatshops are not only located in countries such as China and Vietnam, but also right here in the UK, involving some of the most popular high street retailers.
B. Fashion and Development
Fashion is also closely connected to development, with cotton particularly vital to the livelihoods of millions of people in developing countries and the global textile industry. One initiative, the Fairtrade Collective, provides a lifeline to farmers by ensuring they are paid a guaranteed minimum price for their crop, which covers the costs of producing it sustainably.
C. Fashion and Awareness
There is little understanding or awareness of the environmental impacts of the industry, particularly with regards to the volume of clothing being produced, transported, used and disposed of every year. The fashion industry produces over 100 billion items of clothing worldwide each year, with three out of five of those ending up in landfill within the same 12 months. In 2015 only, the fashion industry produced 92 million tons of waste, emitted 1.7 million tons of CO2 and consumed 79 billion cubic meters of water.
The British Fashion Council has launched Positive Fashion to facilitate dialogue, share best practices and know-how of new low-carbon business models that embed sustainability in their core.
D. Reusing and Recycling
Between 2001 and 2005 in the UK, the number of garments bought per person increased by over a third. The industry itself is also highly wasteful, with proofs, swatches, production off-cuts and end of rolls being left behind on the factory floor. Organisations such as From Somewhere re-think this “fast fashion” trend in an attempt to address the industry’s waste. They reclaim and up-cycle. This type of slow fashion not only encourages timeless designs, excellent tailoring and mindful consumption, but is also ethically and socially sound.
Going Beyond Carbon
It is important to remember that being green is about more than just reducing carbon emissions. There are many more actions a fashion business can take to reduce its environmental impact, and encourage its supply chain, clients and customers to do so too.
Here are some resources to get started:
- Zady: A collective of eco fashion brand stores.
- Ethical Fashion Forum: A non-for-profit network focusing upon social and environmental sustainability in the fashion industry.
- Ecoluxe London: A not-for-profit platform showcasing ethical brands by teaming up with charities, organisations, corporations and the media.
- Conduct an audit to understand the energy footprint of your fashion business.
- Research your supply chain, including manufacturers, cutters, dyers and down the line to find out how your business impacts others and the environment.
- Collaborate, discuss and create a company environmental policy and encourage your team, your vendors and your customers to get involved and stay involved.
- Partner with like-minded organisations to spread the word on why environmental and social awareness issues matter.
Running a fashion company is a serious business that involves an often complex supply chain that affects people and the planet in ways one may not expect. Fashion is no longer just about designing or selling clothes. It is about creating a sustainable, responsible brand that creates positive opportunity with a minimal environmental impact.
For more information on Positive Fashion visit this page.