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Growing Movement Shows Climate Cost of Fashion


Models wear creations as part of designer Fabio Quaranta's men's Fall-Winter 2020-21 collection presented in Milan, Italy, on Jan. 13, 2020. (AP Photo/Antonio Calanni)
Growing Movement Shows Climate Cost of Fashion
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Have you ever wondered how much of the planet’s resources it takes to make one piece of clothing? Experts have the answer to that and other questions.

“So for example it would take 13 years to drink the water that is used to make one pair of jeans and one t-shirt,” said Fee Gilfeather. She is a sustainability expert at the nonprofit organization OXFAM. She added, “It’s just an incredible amount of environmental resources that are required for making the clothing that we wear.”

As it relates to climate and the environment, the term “sustainable” means using methods that do not destroy or overuse natural resources.

The sustainable production of clothing is now a major subject of discussion in many parts of the world. The fashion industry is one of the world’s largest polluters.

The industry is the second-largest user of water. It is responsible for 8 to 10 percent of the world’s carbon emissions. That is more than all international flights and ocean-going transport combined, notes the United Nations Environment Program.

Harmful chemicals, transport of goods and plastic packaging that cannot break down add to the environmental cost. The combined effects have made consumers want to know where and how their clothes are produced. They are urging the industry to use methods that are less harmful to the environment.

Some manufacturers and clothing sellers have found inventive solutions.

At the high end of the market, clothing designers are trying to market sustainable fashion as luxury. In 2015, a sustainability report by the information firm Nielsen found 66 percent of people are willing to pay more for environmentally friendly clothing.

At the lower end of the industry, there are also ideas. For example, in 2019, Inditex – the company that owns clothes seller Zara -- announced a sustainability promise. It said it wants all its clothes to be made from sustainable or recycled materials by 2025.

In December 2018, the fashion industry launched the Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action. The launch took place at COP24, the international climate conference in Katowice, Poland. It was an agreement between clothing companies, retailers, suppliers and a major shipping company to collectively take action. The nonprofit organization WWF International is also a member of the agreement.

Patricia Espinosa is the executive secretary for UN Climate Change. She said the charter comes at a time when “we needed it most.” The charter recognizes fashion as a major cause of greenhouse gases, with many possibilities for lowering emissions. It hopes to reach zero emissions by 2050. And it notes a number of issues, including low-carbon transport of clothing and choosing sustainable clothing materials.

The Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) is a group of Parliament members in Britain. The group’s job is to examine the environmental effects of the nation’s governmental departments.

In 2019, the EAC found that Britain buys more clothes than any other country in Europe, throwing away 1 million tonnes each year. It said fashion retailers should take responsibility for the clothes they sell. The committee demanded a responsibility plan by producers of fabrics. The plan would add a small amount to the cost of each item, raising money for recycling centers to avoid polluting lands with wasted clothing.

The British government, then led by Prime Minister Theresa May, rejected all the committee’s proposals. This upset the nonprofit group Fashion Revolution, which is pushing for more openness, sustainability and ethics in the fashion industry.

The organization’s co-founder, Orsola De Castro, said, “That set us back 20 years at the very, very least. It is inexcusable and frankly, unforgivable.”

The fashion industry is facing other problems. It has been accused of unethical labor practices. Things have begun to improve in recent years, however. The decisive moment was the 2013 building collapse in Dhaka, Bangladesh, which killed 1,134 factory workers.

DeCastro does not believe big, effective changes have come to the fashion industry yet. But she says there is a “massive difference” in public awareness.

I’m Alice Bryant. And I’m Bryan Lynn.

The Associated Press reported this story. Alice Bryant adapted it for Learning English. Ashley Thompson was the editor.

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Words in This Story

jeans – n. pants made of a strong cloth (called denim)

t-shirt – n. a shirt that has short sleeves and no collar and that is usually made of cotton

fashion – n. the business of creating and selling clothes in new styles

consumer – n. a person who buys goods and services

luxury – n. something that is expensive and not necessary

recycle – v. to make something new from something that has been used before

retailer – n. a person or business that sells things directly to customers for their own use

greenhouse (gases) – n. relating to or caused by the warming of the Earth's atmosphere that is caused by air pollution

practice – n. something that is done often or regularly

awareness – n. the act of knowing that something (such as a situation, condition, or problem) exists

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