Growth in the fashion industry is hampering sustainability targets as environmental impact from brands, retailers and manufacturers remains high.
Current reductions in carbon footprints, water usage and embracing circular businesses is far slower than the rate of growth. The UK Government has announced policies and proposals to decarbonise all sectors of the UK economy to meet its binding 2050 net zero target, and there is an increasing focus on the need to reduce consumption-based emissions.
A new report published by climate action NGO, WRAP, called the Textiles 2030 Annual Progress Report 2021/22, shows more than 62 percent of the UK’s clothing market, including retailers and producers, have signed up to its programme to reduce their impact.
WRAP has introduced a tried and tested tool using existing product data to calculate carbon and water impacts and suggest strategies for improvement. Called the Textiles 2030 Footprint Calculator, the tool covers the whole product lifecycle including materials, manufacture, retail, consumer use and disposal.
Brand and retailer signatories are required to report annually to WRAP using the Footprint Calculator, with reuse and recycling organisations submitting additional data. The baseline year is 2019, the founding year of the organisation.
What the data tells us
In 2019 a footprint of 11.6 million tonnes of carbon dioxide of textiles sold and or placed on the market was emitted by its signatories. This rose 4.4 percent in 2021, to 12.1 million tonnes. The footprints have increased due to a significant growth in the volume of clothing and home textiles sold or placed on the market in 2021. Total fibre tonnages rose by 6 percent over the period, from 465,731 tonnes in 2019 to 493,546 tonnes in 2021.
Even with counter measures being taken, such as usage of preferred materials, it has had insufficient impact on sales and growth.
Working together to reduce impact
The report says signatories will need to work together to lower impacts significantly, by adopting and increasing the implementation of actions beyond fibre substitution, such as clean and efficient production, improved product design, reducing the production of new products and implementing effective circular business models to decouple business growth from the use of new resources.
Despite sourcing more improved fibres, sales growth has pushed reporting signatories’ carbon emissions and water use in the wrong direction.
Carbon emissions and water use is going in the wrong direction.
The report iterates the case for circularity has never been stronger. Halving the footprint of apparel products demands radical action, whole industry commitment, citizen engagement and enabling legislation.