France could soon pass a decree requiring every item of clothing sold in the country to bear a label detailing its exact impact on the climate.
The European Union is considering a similar rule for the rest of its members.
A multitude of factors determine a garment’s sustainability credentials, from where and how its raw materials were grown, to the dyes used in the coloring process, and how far it has traveled before arriving in store.
The French Agency for Ecological Transition is currently testing 11 proposals for collecting and comparing this data. It uses 500 garments to determine what the new labeling system might look like.
“The message of the law is clear, it will become mandatory, so brands must prepare, make their products traceable, organize the automatic collection of data”, explains Erwan Autret, one of the coordinators of the French agency.
“Some say the models are too simple, some say they’re too complicated, but it’s a sign of the maturity of the debate that no one is questioning the need for these calculations anymore.”
The agency is expected to collate the results of its tests in the coming months, before handing them over to lawmakers.
According to the United Nations, the fashion industry contributes between 2-4% of global greenhouse gas emissions due to its extensive supply chains and energy-intensive production processes. “The fashion industry produces around 20% of the world’s wastewater, while 85% of textiles end up in landfills or are incinerated when most of these materials could be reused”, explains the organization.
“Overall, the industry consumes more energy than the aviation and shipping industries combined, underscoring the importance of emissions reductions across the sector.”
In response, the UN set up the Fashion Charter in 2018 “to provide a clear path for the fashion industry to achieve net zero emissions by 2050”.
Initiatives such as this one in France can play an important role in solving the problem, by encouraging brands to be more transparent and shoppers to be more aware and careful with their consumption.
“It will force brands to be more transparent and informed… to collect data and create long-term relationships with their suppliers, all things they are not used to doing”, explains Victoire Satto of The Good Goods, a media agency focused on sustainable fashion.
“Right now it seems infinitely complex. But we’ve seen it applied in other industries such as medical supplies.”
But for some activists, the decree does not go far enough. “It’s really good to focus on life cycle assessment, but we need to do something about it beyond the labels,” said Valeria Botta of the Environmental Coalition on Standards.
“The focus should be on establishing clear product design rules to ban the worst products on the market, prohibit the destruction of returned and unsold goods, and set production limits. Consumers should not have to struggle to find a sustainable option – that should be the default.”
Updated: August 13, 2022, 09:59