Sustainability is the new black: a look into the fashion industry

 Sustainability is the new black: a look into the fashion industry

Did you know that to produce one cotton t-shirt it takes as many liters of water as one individual drinks in two years and a half?


In fact, even if you don’t follow the latest fashion, you are still a victim of the this industry. Today, we had the chance to hear from the representatives of some of the biggest fashion brands, such as Mr. Stefan Seidel (Puma), Mr. Kim Hellstorm (H&M) and Ms. Pamela Betty (Burberry).

Due to the current climate change challenges, 43 leading brands decided to stipulate a Charter for Climate Action in response to climate change. During this event, the central and double-edged role of the fashion stakeholders was emphasized: on one side, it is true that they are responsible for 5% greenhouse gas emissions (more than international flight and maritime shipping). That’s why, with the Charter, some common goals were set, like for instance a 30% reduction of emissions by 2030 and net-zero emission target by 2050. On the other side, it has to be noted that the fashion industries can be positively influential on consumers choices.

The Charter for Climate Action is based on a collaborative approach, where interdependencies and partnerships between various actors and sectors in and beyond the fashion industry are created. Nevertheless, as the Head of Corporate Sustainability at Puma said, the history of some of the biggest brands showed us that promises were not always kept, and for this reason, our environment experienced the negative effects of this disregard.
A question that was raised during the event concerned the possibility of reducing the quantity of clothes produced and, instead, raising their quality. It is not a secret that many famous fashion companies (just to quote a name, Burberry) burned and keep burning their unsold goods, polluting the environment not only once by producing the item, but twice, by wasting and eventually destroying it.

Beyond the effort to reduce the production of units, we need a more sustainable attitude towards our shopping habits: we could prevent the creation of waste by decreasing the demand for new items and preferring second-hand stores. These new realities are still not very widespread nor popular in our cities, and when we have the luck of finding one, most of the times the items sold are expensive, as if they just came fresh out of the factory and/or were couture fashion. In this way, it is more straightforward for the individual to walk in a fast fashion store and buy low quality, but yet stylish, clothing.
The solution to this wasteful practice lies, as in most of the times, in knowledge. A more educated and conscious consumer is usually able to make better choices and therefore avoid useless and unnecessary costs, both to their wallet and to the environment. In fact, if buyers are well-informed and aware of the economic, social and environmental costs related to the production and life cycle of fashion articles, the entire industry will surely be resized.

After the event held at the COP24, we had the opportunity to meet and talk with Vanessa Perez Cirera, Climate & Energy Practice Deputy Leader of WWF International. We asked her some questions about concrete actions that the organisation is taking on the matter. She mentioned 4 programs in different fields: the first one is “Science-based targets”, an initiative that provides companies with pathways and methodologies for growth, which align with the 1.5° C IPCC report. The aim of the programme is to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions, transitioning to a low carbon or, ideally, renewable energy-based economy. So far, 500 companies adhered to it.

In connection to the just mentioned project, they developed a portal to spread climate innovative strategies and technologies, which would help enriching the pre-set targets. Knowing that it is not always easy to switch to a more sustainable making, WWF built a Renewable Energy Buyers Alliance (REBA), a network to connect both producers and buyers of renewable energy.

For the most ambitious ones, WWF launched a climate leadership program, The Climate Savers, with the intention of influencing the industry through agents of change who decided to go one step beyond the set targets. By now, 28 global companies took the challenge and became partners of WWF, setting an example for a sustainable growth.

Hand in hand with the supply side initiative, a change in consumer behaviour is needed too. As Ms Cirera mentioned, individuals should consume less but also be willing to pay more to send a clear message to the producers: sustainability is the new black. In this way, companies would be incentivized to create a circular economy that would trace the whole life cycle of what they produce. The change needs to be bilateral, but it is the consumer who needs to take the first step and show its willingness.

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