How can the fashion industry become more sustainable

The need for sustainable fashion is immense, and we can address the adverse impacts of the fashion industry through a combined effort of various stakeholders consisting of fashion brands, consumers and policymakers. But what do these efforts and sustainable solutions for a positive impact on the environment and people look like more specifically?

Sustainable Materials and Sourcing

Fashion brands should invest in sustainable materials sourcing to shift towards greater circularity. Organic cotton, hemp, jute and leather sourced from sustainable crop-livestock farming can create low water and energy footprints on the environment.

For example, sustainable materials such as jute-based products can reduce or neutralize CO2 emissions by cleaning out the air and creating a net negative CO2 impact. A hectare of jute plant cultivation takes out 15 tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and also releases 11 tons of oxygen during its 100-day production cycle. Further, the cultivation of jute requires very little to no fertilizer and minimal amounts of water, thus preventing water contamination, freshwater loss, and soil degradation.

Another example, the largest meat and dairy companies emit huge greenhouse gas emissions and generate a lot of waste in the environment. It is estimated that livestock production contributes 15% of all greenhouse gas emissions. This is a higher percentage than all the gas emissions in the transportation sector. The leathers sourced from the crop-livestock circular system can neutralize greenhouse gas emissions. Besides, the environmentally friendly leather tanning process (Figure 1) can eliminate chrome and the associated risks such as environmental pollution and the death and health damage of countless production workers. It is also possible to recycle leather waste, instead of discarding it in landfills, into reusable items.

Figure 1. Advantages of Environmental-friendly Vegetable Tanning Process Over Chrome Tanning

Circular Fashion Economy

Adopting and promoting circular fashion by designing a product with greater durability and better recyclability can generate less waste and emit less greenhouse gas.

Therefore, the carefully planned and right implementation of the ‘circularity concept’ in the fashion industry will reduce resource use and waste generation by prioritizing biodegradable and renewable raw materials, repairs, upcycling and recycling, composting, and demand-based responsible production avoiding excessive inventory.

It is also important to incorporate degrowth in brand sustainability strategies to shift away from the continually enlarging fashion industry on a finite planet that can effectively address the present climate crisis.

Ethical and Sustainable Manufacturing

Ethical and sustainable manufacturing is necessary to shift toward a better future and create positive impacts on the environment. This type of manufacturing ensures safe infrastructure for the factory workers, pays proper wages, offers reasonable working hours for the factory employees, and provides access to necessary health and safety measures. Besides, such manufacturing promotes transparency in the supply chain, discloses production processes and labor practices, shares profits with all stakeholders within the supply, measures environmental footprints and takes action to reduce carbon footprints in the supply chain.

Water and Energy Efficiency

According to the Water Footprint Data calculated by Collective Fashion Justice, the consumption of water in leather processing is higher than any other fashion component such as cotton. The implementation of different water-saving strategies, recycling and water reuse, prevention of invisible water losses and establishing water balance in the system, applying the Zero Liquid Discharge (ZLD) concept, investing in modern technologies, and use of rainwater for production can minimize water consumption in leather processing.

The reduction of water consumption and wastewater generation as well as adopting renewable energy sources and energy-efficient technologies in manufacturing and distribution will help to achieve energy efficiency.

Consumer Awareness

Consumers can play an important role in promoting sustainable fashion. First of all, it is important to educate and create awareness about responsible and environmentally friendly fashion among consumers. Then they can drive the demand for sustainable fashion by making conscious purchasing decisions and encouraging brands to adopt ethical practices.

Consumers can also acquire knowledge about the brands by researching the brand’s values, transparency, the material types that they use, production processes, commitment to ethical manufacturing, strategies to reduce environmental impacts, etc., and can support the brands that align with their values.

Sustainable Packaging

Switching to eco-friendly and biodegradable packaging materials helps a sustainable fashion brand to reduce its waste generation and carbon footprint further. The use of plant-based compostable materials and cardboard produced from recycled papers, minimalist design, returnable and reusable packages, eliminating single-use plastics, and using fewer recycled plastic-based labels are a few options for environmentally friendly packaging solutions.

 

Regulations and Standards

Governments can introduce and enforce regulations and standards that encourage sustainable practices in the fashion industry.
The Regulations such as the banning of hazardous substances in fashion items production; implementing mandatory ecological requirements for fashion products to reduce environmental impacts and promoting certification that ensures ethical trade, organic raw materials, social accountability, and low greenhouse gas emissions will help to establish a sustainable fashion industry.


Sustainable Fashion Technologies

Eco-conscious companies are investing in materials that add durability and require fewer resources. In addition, sustainable fashion technologies such as 3-D virtual sampling, zero waste pattern making, developing bio-fabricated materials, on-demand design and manufacturing, online reselling through upcycling, and second-hand sales will enormously impact reducing waste and pollution from theĀ  $ 3.5 trillion fashion industry in the coming years.

While transforming the fashion industry into a truly sustainable model will require substantial effort from all stakeholders, the potential benefits make it an endeavor worth pursuing. Consumers can drive change through their purchasing decisions by favoring eco-conscious brands. Companies must embrace innovative and sustainable materials, production methods, and business models that prioritize environmental stewardship. Policymakers can incentivize sustainable practices and hold industry players accountable. By working collectively with determination and creativity, we can reshape the fashion sector into one that not only delights with its artistry but also respects the planet’s finite resources. The path forward won’t be easy, but a more sustainable fashion future is an investment in preserving our world for generations to come.

 

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