Fashion Growth Outpaces Sustainability Efforts, Says Report

The growth of the fashion industry is hampering sustainability goals, as the environmental impact of brands, retailers and manufacturers remains high.

Current reductions in carbon footprint, water consumption and adoption of circular businesses are far slower than the rate of growth. The UK government has announced policies and proposals to decarbonise all sectors of the UK economy to meet its binding net zero target for 2050, and there is increasing emphasis on the need to reduce consumption-related emissions.

A new report by climate action NGO WRAP, titled Textiles 2030 Annual Progress Report 2021/22, shows that over 62% of the UK clothing market, including retailers and producers, have joined its program to reduce their impact.

WRAP introduced a proven tool using existing product data to calculate carbon and water impacts and suggest improvement strategies. Called Textiles 2030 Footprint Calculator, the tool covers the entire product lifecycle, including materials, manufacturing, retail, consumer use and disposal.

Signatory brands and retailers are required to report annually to WRAP using the Footprint Calculator, with reuse and recycling organizations submitting additional data. The reference year is 2019, the founding year of the organization.

What the data tell us

In 2019, a footprint of 11.6 million tonnes of carbon dioxide from textiles sold and/or placed on the market was emitted by its signatories. This increased by 4.4% in 2021, to reach 12.1 million tonnes. Footprints increased due to significant growth in the volume of clothing and home textiles sold or placed on the market in 2021. Total fiber tonnages increased by 6% over the period, from 465,731 tonnes in 2019 to 493,546 tons in 2021.

Even with countermeasures taken, such as the use of preferred materials, this did not have a sufficient impact on sales and growth.

Working together to reduce the impact

The report states that signatories will need to work together to significantly reduce impacts, by adopting and increasing implementation of actions that go beyond fiber substitution, such as clean and efficient production, improved design of products, reducing the production of new products and implementing efficient circular business models to decouple business growth from the use of new resources.

Despite improved fiber sourcing, the growth in sales has pushed signatories’ carbon emissions and water consumption in the wrong direction.

Carbon emissions and water use are going in the wrong direction.

The report reiterates that circularity has never been stronger. Halving the footprint of wearable products requires sweeping action, industry-wide engagement, citizen engagement and enabling legislation.

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