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The Garment Industry and Climate Change

Forget business as usual – its time reduce the garment industry’s carbon footprint

Within the garment industry, there is a lot of discussion about how climate change will impact on supply chains. Suppliers are concerned about how climate change will increase infrastructure and logistics risks, reduce the quality and access to raw materials and prompt additional environmental regulations affecting costs. These concerns are based a business as usual approach and tend to view climate change as something the garment industry must adapt to maintain profitability.

Instead, it’s time to look at ways the garment industry can reduce its contributions to climate change and reduce its impact on the environment.

Nate Aden, a Senior fellow at the World Resources Institute said, “the best number we have now is about five percent of [global] greenhouse gas emissions [come from] this sector. To give you some sense of perspective, that's about equivalent to the impact from the aviation sector, so all the planes flying in the world. Or in country terms, that's about equal to Russia. So it's pretty significant.”

This alarming statement, an indictment of the global fast-fashion industry’s direct contribution to climate change, comes on top of the industry’s huge environmental impact. According to the State of Reuse Report, to make just one t-shirt, takes more water than one person drinks in five-years! Polyester (a synthetic fibre made from petroleum products which is found in 60% of garments) is particularly damaging, with the equivalent of 50 billion plastic bottles washed into the ocean each year in the form of microfibres, according to the World Economic Forum.

What can be done then?

At the top of the list of solutions is to reduce, reuse and recycle but we also need to be more conscious of the products we purchase, particularly trying to cut out plastics and buying more organic products. Organic cotton has massive benefits. According to the 2014 Textile Exchange report, the potential savings from organic cotton include a 46% reduction in global warming contributions, 70% reduction in acidification of land and water and a 91% drop in water consumption, among many other benefits including not using toxic chemicals.

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