The effect the fashion industry has on the climate when it comes to emissions in 2018 was equal to the GHG (Greenhouse-gas) emissions of France, Germany and the United Kingdom combined according to research done by McKinsey. Despite all the commitments to reduce emissions, the trajectory of emissions caused by fashion will exceed the 1.5-degree pathway set by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
There are a few main issues when it comes to reducing emissions in this industry. For a start, the growth of the fashion industry and consumption will mean the current commitments to reduce emissions will work- but with growth the emissions will be exactly the same as they are now. At the current growth pace, the emissions will be at around 2.1 billion metric tons by 2030, which is about the same as they are today.
Adapting renewable energy sources is an ideal way to offset emissions. Many big fashion retailers are struggling to make the switch to this for a few reasons. Obviously, cost and installation are a big one. Solar panels are enough to handle 10 to 20 percent of a factories' energy needs. The rest would need to be outsourced from a wind or solar farm. Sourcing and installing these alternatives can be an expense some companies don’t want to pay, and it takes time to install these new systems.
It can also be difficult to make the swap when many fashion retailers use factories that are based in countries that run on coal. A good example of this would be in Vietnam, for example, where companies are not allowed to purchase renewable energy that is generated off-site. But these issues have plans to change in the near future.
Another great way to reduce carbon emissions would be making an effort to move away from using materials derived from fossil fuels. Materials such as polyester and nylon are derived from fossil fuels and are heavily used in fashion production. There are some great options such as Fairbrics, a company that creates polyester out of captured carbon. There are also materials that can be made from organic waste or algae, such as ‘Bloom’ by Algix.
The shipping process is a big contributor when it comes to emissions in fashion. A lot of ships that transport products currently run on diesel - but there is a cleaner alternative. Hydrogen fuel is showing the most promise when it comes to a more climate conscious fuel choice.
The last issue is one we are all very aware of. This is overconsumption and overproduction. Rather than mass production of new collections, creating more limited runs, and having more resale repair services can combat the emissions we cause this way.
Why aren’t we doing these things? Mostly because of the difficulty to implement these ideas. It takes a lot of time, money and planning- but they may be crucial for the future of this industry and the planet.
From the research, it doesn’t look like we are likely to hit the goals we set out when it comes to emissions. Retailers need to push to demand changes in their factories and supply chains, to make sure they can reduce and meet the set out goals. Collaborations with factories and workers can help us implement more eco-friendly techniques while giving them benefits and rewards for doing so. Hopefully we get to see more commitments and goals hit in the near future, and more accessible sustainable fashion throughout the industry.