The apparel value chain is one of the main contributors to climate change due to the pressure it places on biodiversity. Our variety of plant and animal life on earth is important and desirable because its health directly contributes to human health. Most of the negative impact on biodiversity comes from three stages in the apparel value chain; raw material production, material preparation and processing, as well as end of life. Mass production is biodiversity’s main obstacle caused by the ever growing demand for trendy clothing.
Raw Material Production/ Material Preparation
raw material production requires vast areas of land and water use which directly contribute to loss of biodiversity and energy consumption. This process directly contributes toward soil degradation and desertification, as evidenced by the Aral Sea. Cotton agriculture, for instance, uses chemically intensive crop production while synthetic fibres contaminate natural water sources with their production.
Material preparation and processing poses an even greater threat to biodiversity. Textile dyeing and treatment further contaminate freshwater through chemical runoff and non-biodegradable waste, waste that cannot be broken down into useful organic materials. While fashion brings a lot of joy and pride to its owners, their mindless relationship to its negative effects leads to the final stage of biodiversity destruction which is the end of a garment’s life.
Effective garment disposal methods/ end of life.
Consumers usually dispose off their old and unwanted garments by burning or dumping them in a landfill, which presents habitat loss now used as landfills and carbon emissions from the burning of fossil fuels. Apparel supply chains are directly linked to the conversion of natural ecosystems, waterway pollution and soil degradation. These are very serious environmental issues which require the apparel industry to slow broader global biodiversity loss. A radical shift to new cultural values and symbols will present new opportunities for conducting business in the apparel industry.
To find an agreeable solution to biodiversity loss the apparel industry needs to consider how to optimise global cotton production’s environmental footprint. This will require the industry’s support of multiple production systems that balance efficiency, environmental management, farmer needs, which if executed effectively will also satisfy the needs of the consumer.
The materials most commonly used for apparel production; cotton, synthetic fibres, Man-made Cellulosic fibres (MMCFs), have a negative impact on biodiversity but they can be scaled up to become more sustainable and/or eco-friendly. Regenerative techniques, a farming method which mimics the rhythms of the natural world, both organic and inorganic have shown the potential to restore soil micronutrients over time.
The industry can also look into textile innovation. Material innovation bears numerous lower-impact alternatives to conventional fibres. Biodegradable polyesters and bio-polyesters, another class of biodegradable materials, are made from non-synthetic materials like starch. Recycled fibres are also a viable solutions since they not only repurpose waste but also have a lower biodiversity footprint than virgin fibres. An example of future materials was shown by Marine Serre for a collection known as Amor Fati, which includes pieces made from biodegradable nylon.
Apparel brands need to educate themselves and engage with the techniques used by their suppliers. On a basic level they can inquire on the regulations their suppliers are bound by to determine whether or not they use hazardous chemicals. They can forego suppliers who use wet processing to those who use waterless dyeing and those who use digital printing. These methods reduce water and chemical dependency and this way apparel brands will avoid biodiversity loss. In addition to brands educating themselves on the sustainable and green options available to curb mass production and consumption, they can involve the consumers in the process as well.