30 Oct 2018

The impact of our passion for fashion

Posted in: Environmental Management

The impact of our passion for fashion

Fashion industry speaker“If the fashion industry were a country, it would be the fourth largest carbon emitter in the world”, said Quilae Wong, at her recent keynote address at the Climate Change and Business Conference in Auckland.

Wong, the Head of Product and Marketing at ethical fashion company Common Objective, used her address to outline the impact of the fashion industry on our environment, and the organisations that realise cost and business efficiencies by embedding sustainability within their supply chain.

“The business of fashion is huge, currently contributing around $3 trillion per year to the global economy”, she said. Roughly 100 billion new items of clothing are produced per year. The growth of the industry has been fueled by the rise of polyester, which now makes up 62% of fabric demand.

While making this volume of clothing has significant impacts on water, energy use and carbon emissions, the end of product life also impacts on our planet. According to Wong, only 18% of the clothing items discarded every year are reused or recycled, with the remaining 82% either incinerated or buried in landfill.

While the numbers seem overwhelming, Wong herself is part of the solution. Her organisation, Common Objective, uses a custom-built app to match designers with fabric makers or suppliers to help them find the most sustainable option for their needs. The uniquely designed algorithm finds data points from across the supply chain to take a holistic view of what each company is doing.

She also highlighted the work of the Partnership for Cleaner Textiles (PaCT) in Bangladesh, which works with global brands to reduce the high water, energy and chemical use in the wet textile market, and drive increased business efficiencies. To date, PaCTs innovations have saved 22 billion litres of water, 2.5 million megawatt hours of energy and 460,000 tonnes of carbon. For every $1 invested per year, PaCT factories realise an average saving of 0.2 tonnes of carbon emissions, 1.4MWh energy and 13.4m³ of water.

Our Senior Environmental Advisor Chris Bailey says that companies looking to realise similar results must first understand where their environmental effects come from, and which are the significant ones they should pay attention to.

“By taking stock of their environmental impact, companies can identify where they can make the most improvement and realise the greatest savings, both in business efficiency and the environment”, says Bailey.

Organisations can measure and reduce their environmental impact through the framework offered by the Enviro-Mark certification programme. Based on international best practice, the programme supports organisations to run a robust Environmental Management System (EMS) and embed environmental sustainability into their business-as-usual. The five-stage, mentor-led programme first covers legislative compliance, before assisting organisations to systematically assess and prioritise their environmental risks, then put initiatives in place to reduce their impact.

For more information on the Enviro-Mark programme, click here.