Can numbers stop fashion from destroying the planet?
By Rawaa Ammar, Impact & Sustainability Lead at Resortecs.
What do floods caused by extreme rain in Brazil, a heatwave hitting Antarctica, and heavy thunderstorms engulfing Brussels in May have in common? These are only but a subtle sign that climate change is an imminent threat, and that we need to act now.
Observing the water cycle and following how it evaporates into the atmosphere, condenses into rain, and flows back into the sea is an ideal example of how Nature is relying on circularity to sustain life on Earth. To understand such cycles, scientists have always relied on certain parameters throughout the different stages of their formation. The same concept is applied in Life Cycle Assessment studies (LCA), one of my go-to resources to measure impact as a Sustainability & Impact Lead at Resortecs.
An LCA is an environmental management tool that provides a better understanding of a product’s impact on the planet at each stage of its life cycle. It is a very strong tool that can be misused if misconducted. A recent Forbes article explains why environmental impact assessments could potentially undermine sustainable fashion. But does that mean we need to stop conducting LCAs to verify a product’s environmental footprint (PEF)? How will we get the information, and how can brands be held accountable for their sustainability claims?
LCAs should be especially important for the fashion sector, one of the top polluting industries, responsible for 1.2 billion tons of CO2 equivalent every year.
Two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to touch on this topic during a ChangeNow panel discussion on circularity in the fashion industry. The one thing we all agreed on is the critical need for more transparency and information on all things fashion. Data holds great power and framing scientific findings as an LCA can provide brands, legislators, investors, and end-consumers with vital information on the PEF of any product in our closet or shopping cart. LCAs should be especially important for the fashion sector, one of the top polluting industries, responsible for 1.2 billion tons of CO2 equivalent every year.
Concretely speaking, however, the question remains: what kind of change(s) must the fashion industry adopt to help keep the global temperature increase below 2°C, as set by the Paris Agreement? It is obvious that sustainability should be reinforced in every manufacturing aspect – from material sourcing to product design – but little is discussed spoken about the importance of true circularity and efficient waste management. Currently, 34M tons of garments are dumped by the global north in deserts, seas, and incineration yards all over the world every single year. This cannot go on. It’s time for brands to move from the “thinking about it” stage and start implementing, today, the best-performing technologies that can critically reduce and transform the waste of tomorrow.
At Resortecs, we’ve conducted an LCA to compare the impact of different textile disassembly solutions (manual, mechanical, and Resortecs) coupled with (mechanical, chemical, and Purfi) textile recycling. Using all possible combinations of disassembly & recycling processes, we calculated the difference between the PEF of a circular pair of jeans and the PEF of a benchmark pair that would end up incinerated or in a landfill.
The results are not at all shocking: recycling is one of the golden opportunities to transform the future of fashion… but if not done right or, even worse, if disassembly is not part of the equation, the entire effort to make the textile supply chain greener could be wasted. Compared to incineration, the right technical choice, like adopting Resortecs to automate disassembly and facilitate industrial-scale recycling, can reduce CO2 emissions by up to 50%. The impact doesn’t stop there:
• water consumption can be reduced by 98%;
• textile waste can be decreased by up to 80%;
• costs linked to toxicity remediation can be reduced by over 200 euros (per pair of jeans!).
By now, you are probably wondering if brands will need to spend more to pick these low-hanging fruits? While the short answer is yes (no innovation is cheaper than the status quo before it becomes mainstream), the right answer is no!
Shifting from linear production to a circular model, such as the one made possible by Resortecs’ Smart Stitch™️ & Smart Disassembly™️, is a medium-term investment that has many financial advantages for different players along the textile supply chain. To list only the benefits for brands, adopting Resortecs allows fashion giants to:
• reduce their carbon footprint and avoid offsetting costs or CO2 taxation;
• secure a continuous stream of traceable, recycled, sustainable materials;
• save up to 15% in production costs;
• get an ROI as high as 300% with payback within the year;
• and, ultimately, reduce the consequences of fashion production on climate change!
What do you think – can numbers and LCAs eventually stop the fashion industry from destroying the planet? Let me know in the comments sections.
If you are curious to discover how the fashion industry can reduce its annual emissions by 204 M tons in the coming 10 years, download our externally-reviewed Life Cycle Assessment.