The Exploitation of Sustainability Metrics.

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The fashion industry, like most industries in the last 20 years, has been challenged to give realistic solutions for their waste streams. As a result, consumers have seen numerous innovations to ensure adherence to the triple bottom line through sustainability. Although much work has gone into defining sustainability and its global adoption, many still fail to understand its core values. The lack of vital metrics in the industry make it difficult to define and apply sustainability across the industry.

“Current definitions drift towards a narrow scope that fails to assess impact across the value chain.”

The above information further supports the idea that a lack of vital metrics is causing the industry to ignore core production issues by highlighting surface value improvements. The current assessments are wrong for two reasons:

  • Focusing on production to consumer, instead of production to the end of a garment’s life. This alludes to the linear method of production and;
  • Calculating impacts per kilo, instead of due to wear.

The way to challenge these assessments is to force the industry to instill scientific research in the sustainable fashion debate. This calls on all fashion producers to prove their data is supported by independent scientific studies.

Farming ( Water use and Pollution)

Farming is the fashion industry’s first point of reference, with 33% of all fibres made from cotton. Cotton is the most common natural fibre used to make clothing and textiles. The farming industry is hardly mentioned in the fashion industry when sustainability comes up, and this gives sheds light on the first assessment.

farmer and pair of oxen plowing land
Photo by Mehmet Turgut Kirkgoz on

Cotton farming also requires about 2700 litres of water fot the production of one cotton shirt. It is also responsible for 24% of insecticides and 11% of pesticides despite using about 3% of the world’s arable land.

Although the information above exists for public consumption, the fashion industry places more value on organic farming as the more sustainable method. This is false because organic farming requires 10% more resources for cotton production. The use of more water, arable land and livestock cultivation to produce organic fertilizer is not factored in sustainable fashion calculations, which results in more negative environmental impacts.

Climate Impact

The carbon footprint of a garment largely depends on the material used to make it. This is another aspect of sustainability the fashion industry fails to expand on. Synthetic fibres made from plastic, such as polyester, have less impact on water and land but they emit more greenhouse gases per kilogram. This sheds light on the second assessment and proves that value metrics cannot be the same for different materials or production methods.

The recycle part in the 3R’s method does not apply to synthetic fibres. This means using the method to highlight sustainability but failing to explain where it applies removes responsibility from the industry. The industry should not be left to its own policy making and classifications without the assistance of scientific data.

photo of person holding pen
Photo by Vlada Karpovich on

It is the industry’s responsibility to ensure that the information they spread through their advertising platforms is true and benefits consumers. Greenwashing happens when corporations ignore transparency, ethics and fair trade in favour of profit.

Solutions to achieving better sustainability metrics

Sustainability metrics are too important to not be accurate. It is, therefore, everyone’s responsibility involved in fashion to call on its immediate transformation. There should be an immediate call to action to all policy makers and classification organisations as well.

The authors of the Great Green Washing Machine Part 1: Back to The Roots Of Sustainability gave these 5 suggestions:

  1. Fashion corporations and global policymakers must assess the socio-economic impacts of fibre production and place these front and center in any and all sustainability, claims, rankings, and labelling.
  2. Regulatory frameworks should include livable wages. Basing the sustainability of a garment on fibre choice is unscientific and illogical if the workers who produced it do not get paid a living wage.
  3. Governments should demand that fashion brands provide comprehensive, accurate and verified sustainability information. Private organisations should not be allowed to classify the impact of fibres amongst themselves.
  4. Better manage global resources to promote the use of farmed fibres and co-products.
  5. Reduce the use of plastic fibres.

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