You’ve probably all read the latest IPCC report, or at least heard of the results. What a dark, alarming but realistic picture. Once again, we were reminded of the urgent need to limit global warming to two degrees Celsius.
Yet these ambitions are above all based on an irrational confidence in the willingness of people to act.
When the last tree on Easter Island was cut down in the 1600s, sealing the fate of its inhabitants by locking them up on the island and precipitating the collapse of their civilization, surely someone somewhere was watching this spectacle. thinking, “they’ll realize this is the last one, we know trees don’t grow overnight?”
But the sound of the ax falling on the lone evergreen tree reflected the ax of their hopes, and now resonates with the ticking of the clock running through our heads as time presses to tackle climate change.
Every industry has a role to play in protecting our planet and our people, including the clothing and footwear industry. A European Environment Agency report found that textiles consumed in the EU generated over 300 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent in 2017, making it the fifth source of impact for every European and UK citizen.
So, to reduce this impact, can we still count on goodwill and voluntary actions like the hapless observer of Easter Island? Clearly no. From citizens, NGOs, to major players in the textile and clothing industry, the consensus is clear: sustainability must be turned into legislation – mandatory legislation. I’m convinced.
The first cut
So how can this be put into practice? It is estimated that more than 80 percent of the impact of a garment is sealed at the time of its conception.
The initial step in choosing a material, cut or trim determines the majority of its environmental impact. This phase is the most critical.
And I hope we can influence that through legislation.
In some regions, responsible design regulations are already in preparation. For example, in Europe, discussions within the framework of Sustainable Policy Initiative (SPI) have started and we expect a full proposal to be released in December.
Just as the impact of a product is defined at the design stage, so too is legislation: SPI has the potential to radically change the way products are designed and manufactured, so it is essential that policies are carefully crafted from the start.
First, under the next SPI regulation, every organization putting products on the market should be required to meet the expectations of the Paris Agreement.
The setting of a mandatory CO2 emission threshold for all industry players, implemented as the industry progressively moves towards better accounting and disclosure of the carbon footprint of each of its products, will open up the way to efficient decarbonisation.
About products, while many big luxury players continue to maintain their stronghold; every two to three years, a new brand enters the market and offers increasingly cheaper and lower quality products.
Fast mode vs durability
With the search for a lower price and the emergence of more and more fast fashion brands, sustainability is inevitably compromised. However, thanks to new regulations, selling sustainable products will no longer be a design option – it will be a legal requirement.
Thus, every product placed on the market will have to meet minimum quality standards, ensuring that our fashion and sporting goods stay in good condition and last longer. By ensuring the sustainability of products, consumers will. in turn, be less likely to purchase new replacements.
With the longevity of our clothing and footwear ensured, new business models related to resale and repair can develop further, offering the possibility of potentially doubling the lifespan of a product again.
Not only can design regulations extend a product’s lifespan, it can also determine its environmental impact at the end of its use. As items reach their inevitable end of life, they need to be adapted for a circular economy.
Again, this capability will be largely defined during the design phase by starting to limit certain types of materials, dies, gaskets or chemicals incompatible with recycling. This will allow materials to be fed back into the value chain for reuse – not wasted.
Therefore, effective policy has the power to have an impact and we should not rely on voluntary action. I think legislation can compensate for a lack of goodwill.
If producers and sellers are forced to change their approach and these key measures are implemented in all clothing and footwear products, there will be a responsible baseline for a sustainable, resilient and sustainable industry.