Industry and the electricity it consumes accounts for nearly a third of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, according to the EPA. That’s the most of any economic sector. Greenhouse gases trap heat and make the planet warmer, which has been widely credited as the primary cause of climate change.
While there are many things we as individuals can do to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions; it's essential that industry do the same. A recent study from CDP found that 100 companies are 71% of emissions alone!
What Are Greenhouse Gases?
Greenhouse gases are gases that absorb infrared radiation. This traps heat, keeping the earth's surface warmer than it would be without them. This is known as the greenhouse effect. Scientists around the world agree this is the leading cause of climate change. Common greenhouse gases include carbon dioxide and chlorofluorocarbons.
Greenhouse gases enter the atmosphere through natural processes like plant and animal respiration, but human activities are a much more significant cause. The primary human sources of GHG emissions are:
- Use of fossil fuels
- Destruction of forests
- Industrial processes
- Synthetic fertilizers
The amount of greenhouse gases generated by a country, company, event or individual is referred to as their carbon footprint. It’s measured as tons of CO2 emitted yearly, and that’s usually supplemented by tons of equivalent gases such as nitrous oxide and methane.
How Can Carbon Footprints Be Reduced?
Carbon footprints can be reduced by driving more efficient vehicles, (or even better, taking public transportation), eating locally grown foods and less meat, using energy efficient appliances and making sure homes and other buildings are adequately insulated.
Companies can also help reduce their footprints by buying carbon credits. The money paid into them goes toward environmentally reparative activities such as planting more trees and investing in renewable energy.
The Fashion Industry’s Impact
Clothing is responsible for roughly 3% of the global (approximately 850 million metric tons) GHG emissions annually, according to The Carbon Trust. This includes the emissions produced before and after the clothing is purchased (washing, drying, ironing, etc.) In comparison, Australia produces about 542.1 million tons of GHG emissions each year, and the U.S produces around 6,879 million metric tons.
The textile industry is huge and is a massive consumer of water and chemicals. According to a report on TextileValueChain.com, it is the industry most responsible for global water pollution. This is due to treatments like resizing, prewashing, mercerizing, dyeing, printing and so on. They all require chemical applications to the fabric. Some need to be bleached before dyeing, adding more dangerous compounds to the environment. Around 2000 different chemicals are used in the industry, and it takes between 10% and 100% of a fabric's weight in chemicals to make that fabric ready for use.
The use of synthetic fibers, such as nylon and polyester which are petrochemical based (read: fossil fuels), create an even more significant impact on the environment. They require vast amounts of energy to develop and the chemicals used to make them are toxic and wind up in our air, water, and soil.
So how can the fashion industry reduce their carbon footprint? Here are five ways our fashion company has put into action:
1. Organic Cotton
Cotton may be a completely natural fiber, but the current ways of growing and harvesting it have a large carbon footprint and heavily rely on pesticides and fertilizers. For example, in India alone, 72% of carbon emissions come from the production of fertilizers and pesticides. To reduce these emissions companies are making more clothing from organic cotton, which uses fewer chemicals, less energy, and needs less water.
2. Organic Dyes and Fibers
Commercial dyes are full of harsh and even toxic chemicals, which eventually make their way to our waterways and the surrounding environment. By using organic dyes instead, that impact is significantly reduced.
Many fashion companies are looking at fabrics made from recycled shredded plastic and other sustainable materials. For example, according to the World Economic Forum, a shoe brand collaborated with Parley Ocean Plastic to create a range of shoes using fibers made from shredded plastic removed from oceans.
3. Sustainable Packaging
Unlike the traditional BOPP (Biaxially Oriented Polypropylene) bags, using cellophane bags instead reduces landfill waste. Cellophane is made from wood and plants, so it is biodegradable and compostable.
Companies can also reduce waste and the energy needed to deal with it by using more recycled materials and cutting down on unnecessary wrappings.
4. Responsible Sourcing and Manufacturing
Rather than using machines, which result in increased electrical output, fabrics can be hand-dyed and processed. To reduce emissions within the supply chain, using materials indigenous to the are the company is located in means minimal impact from importing or shipping fabrics from other countries. This reduces overall costs as well, and those savings can be passed on to the consumer.
5. Use of Natural and Recycled Materials for Accessories
By using natural and recycled materials for accessories rather than leather or plastic, environmental impact and GHS emissions are significantly reduced. A contributing factor to greenhouse gases and carbon footprints is intensive livestock farming, which is needed to sustain the demand for leather. Plastics are not biodegradable and end up in our oceans and consequently, cause severe damage to the wildlife and fish that live there.
Is it Really Important?
Absolutely. According to the Environmental Defense Fund, global warming is already impacting our daily lives. The beer industry is suffering from a shortage of clean water and the decimation of barley and hops crops due to drought. In fact, they say the extreme weather events fueled by global warming are causing widespread damage to the world’s agricultural supply.
As a result, we are all seeing higher prices at the grocery store. The EDF says it will also eventually lead to lower yields of wheat and maize, which will be catastrophic to the food supplies of Africa and Central America.
The severe weather events are also prompting insurers to stop issuing homeowners policies in areas like North Carolina and Florida, and sharply raise premiums elsewhere, putting insurance out of reach for the people who need it the most.
Forests are being decimated thanks to warm winters which allow bark beetles to survive. The cold of winter is supposed to kill them. Because they are flourishing instead, they’ve destroyed an area of forest the size of the state of Washington.
One-third of the world’s major lakes and rivers are drying up, affecting groundwater wells for 3 billion people, according to the World Preservation Foundation. This is due to drought caused by climate change.
Coffee may become a scarce commodity. Ethiopia, which is a main producer of Arabica coffee beans, could lose as much as 59% of their coffee growing area by the end of the century due to climate change. Globally, as much as 50% of land suitable to growing coffee could be lost by 2050.
Sea levels are rising steadily, and cities like Venice, Italy are already struggling to stay ahead of it. Eventually, major US cities like New York, Miami and Boston could find themselves underwater.
“Every piece of clothing we buy has had an impact on our planet before we even bring it home. Fast fashion is an industry which damages the environment through multiple ways: over-consumption of raw materials –it requires 2,700 liters of water to make just one t-shirt, the amount of water an average person drinks over the course of 900 days! -, high utilization chemicals in the production process, high consumption of oil and gas in the delivery process and immense waste generation because of the nature of the consumption.
Each year 60 billion square meters of textile are left on the cutting room floor. Each year over 80 billion pieces of clothing are produced worldwide, and after its short lifespan, three out of four garments will end up in landfills or be incinerated. Only a quarter will be recycled., said Greenpeace journalist Shuk-Wah Chung in her April 2016 online article, "Fast Fashion is Drowning the World."
It’s more than important that the fashion industry cleans up its act and continues efforts to reduce their carbon footprint and overall environmental impact, it's a must.
Climate change is not a theory or a conspiracy, it's a fact, and it is happening as we speak, with extreme weather, rising ocean temps, disappearing ice at our poles, agricultural crisis', water crisis' and much more, and it will only get worse if we don't act.
As much as we may hate to admit it, we need to reduce consumption. That means making clothes that wear better and last longer, so they don't need to be replaced very often. While reducing how much clothing people need to buy may seem counterproductive to business, it may go a long way toward keeping the environment healthy enough to sustain us.