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Fast Fashion or Slow Fashion? The Environmental Cost of Fast Fashion

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Later City News: The fashion industry is facing increasing global scrutiny of its environmentally polluting supply chain operations. Despite the widely publicized environmental impacts, however, the industry continues to grow, in part due to the rise of fast fashion, which relies on cheap manufacturing, frequent consumption and short-lived garment use.


In a research recently published by journal of Nature Reviews Earth & Environment, Kirsi Niinimäki and his research team from Scandinavian and American universities shows that Impacts from the fashion industry include over 92 million tonnes of waste produced per year and 79 trillion litres of water consumed. On the basis of these environmental impacts, the research outlines the need for fundamental changes in the fashion business model, including a deceleration of manufacturing and the introduction of sustainable practices throughout the supply chain, as well a shift in consumer behaviour — namely, decreasing clothing purchases and increasing garment lifetimes.


These changes stress the need for an urgent transition back to ‘slow’ fashion, minimizing and mitigating the detrimental environmental impacts, so as to improve the long-term sustainability of the fashion supply chain.


Carbon footprint

Textiles, alongside aluminium, generate the most greenhouse gases per unit of material. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change claims that the textile industry causes 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions, but the scope and method of this estimate are unclear.


In this research more conservative estimates have also been made — Quantis, for example, estimated that the fashion industry emitted approximately 4.0 gigatonnes (Gt) of CO2 equivalent in 2016, or 8.1% of global CO2 equivalent emissions. Approximately one-fifth (0.7Gt CO2 equivalent, or 1.4% of global emissions) of these CO2 emissions were from footwear alone, with the rest from apparel (3.3Gt CO2 equivalent, or 6.7% of global emissions), although none of these estimates includes emissions during the use phase of the life cycle, such as transport from retail environments and laundering. Estimates from the Carbon Trust are more conservative, approximating 0.33Gt of CO2 equivalent emitted in 2011 due to clothing production (omitting footwear), with a further 0.530Gt of CO2 added by the use phase of the life cycle.


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Similarly, a study of Swedish textiles consumption42 found that the use phase could contribute 14% of the total climate impacts of clothing consumption. The research estimate global production of 2.9 Gt of CO2 equivalent emissions, two-thirds of