The Fast and the Fossil Fuelled
“How can I help you today?”
“Hi, I’ll have this dress thanks.”
“No worries, that’ll be $47.50. Would you like to pay an extra $32.75 to carbon offset the production of your dress?”
“Yes and would you like to pay $1.50 to carbon offset the shipping of your dress? It was made in China.”
“Yeah that’s fine...”
“And lastly, do you want to join our Solar Wash Loyalty Program? It’s a $10 monthly fee that offsets your washing machine CO2, so handy!”
“Why are there so many extra costs?”
When two worlds collide: Fashion and the climate crisis.
Do our clothes have a connection to rising sea levels? Yes, unfortunately they do. While each individual piece of clothing has a small footprint on the planet, when we add it up, we get a much bigger footprint. A footprint that ranks as the fourth largest CO2 emitter in the world.
That is a bigger emitter than Russia.
The forecasts aren’t looking good either. Fashion’s CO2 emissions are expected to increase by more than 60% by 2030. We are producing fashion at an unsustainable rate. Pumping greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere appears to be one of fashion’s best kept dirty secrets.
“Over 8% of total global greenhouse gas emissions are produced by the apparel/footwear industry.” - Quantis, 2018.
But where exactly is this carbon footprint of production coming from?
The best way to explain this is to use the garment life cycle: Starting with fibre production and ending with garment disposal.
Below is a list of the different stages of garment production. The percentage shows how each stage is weighted, based on its impact.
Fibre Production: 15%
Yarn Production: 28%
Fabric Production: 12%
Dyeing and finishing: 36%
The highest emitting activity across each stage of production is generating electricity and heat for manufacturing. There is a heavy reliance on coal and natural gas in countries like China, India and Bangladesh, where a large majority of clothing is manufactured. Fashion isn’t all ruffles and runway, there is a dark underbelly of fossil fuels.
But it doesn’t stop there.
When we look at the carbon footprint of a garment over its lifetime, the production impact is only the beginning. Your washing machine plays a huge part in the carbon footprint of clothing. Once you wash a garment 50 times, its carbon footprint has doubled. The more often you wash, the higher your footprint. This does not mean we should buy new items, wear them once and throw out the washing machine. Your carbon footprint would sky-rocket if you purchased new clothes all the time. It’s about looking to pre-loved options, investing in quality clothing from carbon neutral brands like Allbirds or Reformation, and spot cleaning your clothes when possible.
While brands need to work fast to reduce their carbon emissions and ensure energy efficiency across their production line, we also have a role to play. Here are a few ideas to reduce your personal carbon footprint when it comes to clothing:
Wash on cold
Air dry your clothes
Wash when your clothes are actually dirty, not just because they have been worn.
We can also install solar panels to reduce our domestic carbon footprint and replace halogen lights with LEDs.
“Right now we are facing a man-made disaster of global scale. Our greatest threat in thousands of years. Climate change.” - David Attenborough
The realisation of the climate crisis is finally gaining momentum around the world. The very first World Climate Conference happened in 1979 in Geneva. The scientific community has known about this for a long time and tried in vain to communicate about it to the public. Now, 40 years later, the world is finally starting to wake up.
But we are running out of time.
We have limited time to reverse the enormous damage we have inflicted our own planet.
“Around the year 2030, 10 years 252 days and 10 hours away from now, we will be in a position where we set off an irreversible chain reaction beyond human control, that will most likely lead to the end of our civilisation as we know it. That is unless in that time, permanent and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society have taken place, including a reduction of CO2 emissions by at least 50%.” - Greta Thunberg, April 2019
We can wash our clothes on cold. We can spot clean our jeans. And most importantly, we can make an informed decision to stop buying fast fashion.
We can do this.