Articles | Global Textiles | In-Depth Analysis


Published: September 21, 2022

Climate change is, without a question, one of the most important issues of the twenty-first century. Everything is affected, from the air we breathe to the water we drink to the food we cultivate. And, given that natural fibers are the foundation of the textile business, and since climate change impacts the production and growth of these natural materials, it is only logical that the textile sector prioritizes this huge global issue. Cotton manufacturing alone has a significant environmental impact. A kilogram of cotton (the equal of one pair of pants and one t-shirt) might require more than 20,000 gallons of water to create, according to Textile Today. The textile and garment business will be impacted by more than only the production of natural fibres; the sector is also notorious for being among the most polluting industries in the contemporary world. Major textile operations leave a massive carbon footprint, as carbon is discharged throughout the production chain. Over 60% of textiles are utilized in the clothing industry, and a major percentage of clothing production takes place in China and India, both of which rely on coal-fueled power plants, increasing the environmental footprint of each garment. Using renewable energy, such as solar or wind power, is one way the sector may make beneficial improvements. This will substantially cut the amount of energy required by manufacturers and increase global sustainability.

Fashion is one sector where the consumerism has expanded substantially in recent years. Fast fashion has grown increasingly common; clothing is created in shorter timescales, with new patterns emerging every few days to meet demand for the newest trends, however this comes at the expense of greater consumption and waste. It is estimated that 20 new clothing are created per person each year, and we are purchasing 60% more than we did in 2000. Each clothing is worn for a shorter period of time before being discarded.

The increased public understanding of climate change has uncovered previously concealed obligations. For example, while the oil industry worked for decades to deny the climatic effect of fossil fuels, this is now a fact that the general public is aware of and cannot be ignored. However, if we look about, we can see that there is one concern that is frequently overlooked, and that is consumption. Even if we have accepted that our food is not environmentally friendly, the influence of our consumption patterns does not stop there; consider the clothes and shoes we purchase. The fashion business is seeing rapid expansion.

When we combine direct emissions (those generated by the use of fossil fuels in housing and  transportation) with indirect emissions caused by our energy usage and all the items and services we use, the impact of households to GHG emissions averages approximately 60% of the world total. The great bulk of this load is borne by housing, particularly energy consumption, transportation, services (such as health, education, and recreation), and food.

Our wardrobe's impact to climate change is far from insignificant. According to different estimates, the textile sector is responsible for between 4% and 10% of world emissions, with this figure rising to 26% by mid-century. According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), carbon emissions from this sector outnumber those from all international aeroplanes and marine ships combined. In accordance with the World Economic Forum, the fashion industry's supply chain is the third largest emitter after food and construction.

Textiles is an extremely thirsty business, consuming 93 billion cubic metres of water each year, enough to meet the requirements of five million people. In exchange, it creates no less than 20% of all wastewater on the earth, as well as a massive quantity of garbage, as 87% of all fibre is burnt or disposed of in landfills. Not alone can discarded clothing contaminate the environment; each year, washing synthetic fibre garments discharges half a million tonnes of microfibres the equal of 50 billion plastic bottle into the oceans, contributing to the problem of microplastics.

With this information, it's no surprise that some experts consider the fashion sector to be the least discussed important participant in climate change. However, cries for change abound. In 2018, major industry players and others came together under the auspices of the United Nations to initiate the Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action, with the goal of decarbonizing the industry to achieve net zero emissions by 2050, and the United Nations Alliance for Sustainable Fashion was born the following year. In recent years, large brands and small businesses have implemented a variety of efforts, ranging from more sustainable production to recycling, which is a significant unfinished industry because fewer than 1% of textile materials are recycled.

The necessary reductions in GHG emissions will not be attainable until we manufacture less, purchase less, and get much better at dealing with garment end-of-life. We need to stop thinking of garments as disposable and instead embrace circular fashion ideas that see a garment's life-cycle as a closed loop. Creating an environment that encourages and invests in new approaches to thinking must be part of the industry's climate change toolset. By 2050, fashion will have tackled the greatest waste of all: the huge majority of our garments languishing unused in our closets at any one time. The future of fashion may be a business that substitutes ownership with rapid on-demand fashion rental from an infinite global pool of clothes.

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