The UN Climate Change Conference, COP26, is probably the most important global conference ever for humanity to get runaway climate change under control.
With the world’s most crucial climate gathering kicking off in Glasgow this week, a number of industries - one of which is fashion - will face mounting pressure for specific sustainability solutions.
It's widely recognised that the fashion industry is the second-largest polluter in the world just after the oil industry and is responsible for 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions and 20% of wastewater.
COP26 is an opportunity for the garment industry to be seen as a leader and use its influence for the good of the planet but it cannot achieve this alone, policymakers need to support them too. In a unified message, the fashion industry has just asked world leaders to commit to five recommendations.
There are also many things we, as consumers, can do to help in the meantime too.
But, before we look at how we can help save the planet with the clothes we wear, let's remind ourselves what COP26 is trying to achieve.
What is COP26 supposed to accomplish?
There's one main goal: get closer to fulfilling promises that nations made six years ago at COP21 in Paris. Under the Paris Agreement, countries pledged to collectively cut their greenhouse emissions enough to keep the planet from heating up more than 1.5 degrees C (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit), compared with pre-industrial times. Wealthy countries also promised large amounts of aid to poorer nations to help them cope with climate change and to reduce their own greenhouse emissions.
What is fashion's role in tackling climate change?
Fashion brands need to work on general carbon neutrality commitments, particularly in light of new analysis claiming that no major brand is anywhere near achieving a 1.5°C pathway, the goal COP26 is trying to achieve.
The fashion world has the opportunity to respond to this report by demonstrating a readiness to move beyond the easiest sustainability steps, such as reducing energy use in stores and taking on the harder, but much more crucial steps of major supply chain reform.
How can fashion brands reduce the footprint of clothes?
Clothing’s environmental footprint starts in the supply chain, from raw material production to garment manufacturing. For example, a brand’s material choices alone are responsible for over half its total emissions.
Reducing supply chain emissions requires brands to work with their suppliers to reduce the footprint of their facilities by taking steps such as investing in renewable energy or investing in new technologies that reduce water use in garment manufacturing.
And is there anything we as consumers can do?
Being mindful of how our clothes are made and their environmental impact is certainly a great start.
According to the UN, one pair of jeans takes 7,500 litres of water to make.
To put that in context, the UN’s Food & Agriculture Organisation says that, for most people, 2 litres of water are sufficient for drinking every day. So that pair of jeans you just bought could contain the equivalent of about 10 years’ worth of drinking water for one person.
Here are 5 other tips to reduce our fashion impact from Sustain your Style
1. Buy less
2. Buy clothes from sustainable brands
3. Buy better quality
4. Think twice before throwing clothes out
5. BUY SECOND-HAND, SWAP AND RENT
Caring for clothes creates the most carbon emissions
A new report, published by the Society of Chemical Industry (SCI), looked at several academic studies on the impact of washing clothes. One study found that a T-shirt typically worn 100 items is washed and dried 50 times.
This means 70% of the carbon emissions created during the life of a cotton T-shirt were down to washing and drying, with only 30% coming from production.
This is another opportunity for consumers to do their bit.
But we don't really have to wear smelly clothes, right?
You may have seen headlines such as "experts claim we should all wear smelly clothes to save the planet" and "why dirty is the new black (and green)" over the past few weeks.
The same report from the SCI says that washing clothes has a “huge environmental impact” and urges people to do their laundry less frequently (with the exception of their underwear).
Washing clothes less frequently will not only make them last longer, but it could also have a big environmental impact
Not only will this help to reduce the number of microfibres entering the environment, but it will also mean less energy and water is used – and fewer greenhouse gases.