We Have No Idea How Bad Fashion Actually Is for the Environment
My journey down the rabbit hole started with this fact: “The global fashion industry is the second most polluting industry in the world.” You’ll hear this repeated at panels, on blogs and news sites, and anywhere else sustainable fashion is being discussed.
Intuitively, it sounds true. We’ll start with the fact that an estimated 50 million tons of polyester — a petroleum product — were produced in 2015. Growing cotton, especially if it involves pesticides, herbicides, and oil-powered machinery, is also a large carbon emitter (though not as large as polyester). And then there is the journey the multiple components of one garment take around the world on oil-gulping ships to be spun in one country, then sewn in another factory powered by coal and generators, then finished in yet another, buttons and zippers from another continent, packaged, and shipped to stores, briefly worn, tossed into the landfill (which emits the potent greenhouse gas methane), or shipped back around the world to secondhand markets.
But when I searched for the source, I couldn’t find it. No study, no official report. I asked every sustainable fashion industry expert I knew. Several said they would get back to me. A couple of experts pointed me to the Danish Fashion Institute, which in turn disavowed the fact.