- The clothing industry is one of the world's leading contributors to greenhouse gas emissions, due largely to its waste and demanding transport practices, The Loadstar reported Thursday.
- Early disposal after minimal use, a material recycling standard lower than 1%, and the half million tons of plastic microfibers shed during washing that lands in the ocean are symptomatic of the problem. Quickening production timelines — which doubled in the past 15 years and are likely to triple by 2050 — further aggravates the problem, The Cut reports.
- Solutions to the problem include more effective use of resources and more renewable inputs; a rethinking of and commitment to greater recycling; and the reduction of or phasing out of substances of concern that allow for microfiber pollution.
Fashion's trouble with sustainability doesn't just affect the supply chain.
Uniqlo's efforts at reform began after a 2016 investigation discovered dangerous conditions for workers, while H&M's supply chain practices came into question after it suffered a violent outbreak at a Myanmar factory due to alleged lack of worker payment.
Ralph Lauren joined the sustainability movement to reduce sourcing its wood-based fabrics, such as viscose and rayon, from already threatened rainforests.
None of these efforts directly address recycling or environmental contamination, however. Sustainability experts suggest a multi-tier approach to addressing the problem.
"Mapping your supply chain and surveying your suppliers — beginning with those where you have the highest volume or spend — to identify the biggest carbon sources is the essential first step and guides your next steps," Christina O’Connell, Sustainability and Supply Chain Subject Matter Expert at UL told Supply Chain Dive.
The supply chain does play an important role in containing pollution of various types, however.
"While you cannot control energy use by vendors, helping them to understand their biggest carbon costs and providing guidance on efficiency and renewable options can improve their bottom line and lower your impacts," O'Connell continues. "Gap Inc.’s Mill Sustainability program, for example, uses environmental audits and clearly expressed standards to drive improvements. Levi Strauss and Co., conducts energy audits of key suppliers and guidance programs that have led to a 30% energy use reduction at those suppliers — definitely a win-win."
Transportation plays a large role in reducing a company's carbon footprint, too.
"Companies like PVH work with their third party transportation vendors to select lower impact shipping options — shifting from air to ship or truck, for example — and that can make a big difference," O'Connell notes. "Analyzing your transportation carbon footprint will pinpoint the areas where these changes would have the most impact and help you plan proactively for shipping schedules that accommodate lower impact shipping options.
Studying the path of well-known sustainability-oriented companies can be inspiring and prompt other companies to follow suit.
"Patagonia is also moving beyond these steps to look at the potential of circular approaches. Building recycling and remanufacturing options into your sourcing programs, as well as designing for post-consumer reuse, is a powerful next step and an area we see more and more companies embracing with resulting benefits for the climate and their bottom lines," O'Connell said.