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First-of-Its-Kind Report Examines Global Environmental Impacts of Fashion Industry

Image Credit: RawPixel

The global apparel and footwear industries are worth an estimated $1.7 trillion, a number that is projected to grow as more and more people around the world enter the global middle class — and alongside it, the industries’ environmental impacts. To secure the future of fashion in the face of shifting consumer attitudes, resource scarcity and climate change, brands will need to develop effective solutions to enhance their environmental performance. Doing so, however, requires a thorough understanding of the current landscape. In a new report, Quantis and ClimateWorks Foundation provide brands with critical insights into the industries’ hotspots to help them set ambitious targets to reduce their climate impact.

Measuring Fashion: Insights from the Environmental Impact of the Global Footwear Industries Study draws on the findings of a first-of-its kind study exploring the environmental impacts of the global apparel and footwear industries. It considers the industries’ value chains across seven stages — from fiber production and material extraction to end-of-life, and includes five key environmental indicators: Climate Change, Resources, Freshwater Withdrawal, Ecosystem Quality and Human Health.

“There is increasing pressure on fashion brands to demonstrate their sustainability. We have seen many assumptions being made about the actual environmental performance of the industry and its value chain, where the hotspots lie, and what the potential solutions may be,” said Annabelle Stamm, Senior Sustainability Consultant at Quantis. “We knew fashion’s impact was major, but we didn’t have the science-based metric view of what this really meant. This study enables us to answer some of these questions, but some of our collective assumptions, and provide guidance to those committed to act.”

In order for fashion brands and businesses, particularly those committed to the Science-Based Targets initiative, to align their business with the global objective to limit warming to 2°C, they must first have a thorough understanding of their environmental impacts. Based on industry specific impact data from the World Apparel Lifecycle Database and a multi-indicator approach to assessment, Measuring Fashion endeavors to fill this knowledge gap and aid organizations in setting truly sustainable goals, making science-driven decisions and implementing effective and meaningful actions.

“You have to have good information to make sound decisions,” said La Rhea Pepper, Managing Director of Textile Exchange. “This report provides a great perspective on ways that we, as a textile community, can take action. We can’t allow ourselves to be overwhelmed to paralysis; every small decision and individual action adds up. This will require new business thinking and engagement. Let’s make the wisest choice!”

According to the report, the global apparel and footwear industries together account for 8 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, almost as much as the total carbon impact of the EU. The majority of these emissions are tied to the fiber production (15 percent), yarn preparation (28 percent) and dyeing and finishing (36 percent) phases. In a business-as-usual scenario, apparel’s climate impact is expected to increase by 49 percent to equal today’s total annual greenhouse gas emissions in the United States.

“Clothing is a major part of our day-to-day consumption and we all know that fashion is getting faster and cheaper. But few consumers realize how much their new shirt or pair of shoes impacts their carbon and water footprint,” said Helen Picot, Buildings and Industry Portfolio at ClimateWorks Foundation. “This new research from Quantis and ClimateWorks Foundation reveals the most environmentally intensive links in apparel supply chains. These results can help brands, manufacturers and consumers make smarter choices about how to get on a more sustainable path.”

A steering committee of industry leaders and experts contributed to the Environmental Impact of the Global Apparel and Footwear Industries study by providing their valuable feedback and input. Members included Jason Kibbey, CEO of Sustainable Apparel Coalition; Debera Johnson, Executive Director of Brooklyn Fashion + Design Accelerator, Pratt Center for Sustainable Design Strategies; Megan McGill, Program Manager of C&A Foundation; La Rhea Pepper, Managing Director of Textile Exchange; and Linda Greer, Senior Scientist at NRDC.


Launched in 2006, Sustainable Brands has become a global learning, collaboration, and commerce community of forward-thinking business and brand strategy, marketing, innovation and sustainability professionals who are leading the way to a better future. We recognize that brands today have… [Read more about Sustainable Brands]


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