For many of us, the availability of cheap, mass-produced clothing is a blessing. For a few dollars we can bulk buy everything from shirts and shorts to pants, underwear and sweaters.
While “fast fashion” may be a boon for our wallets because of its value, its impact on the environment is significant.
In October 2018, the U.K. Parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee highlighted just how much our appetite for clothing affects the planet, publishing submissions it had received from experts for an inquiry into the sustainability of the fashion industry.
The findings make sobering reading. According to a submission from the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, in 2015 the global fashion industry generated 1.2 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent. This represents more emissions than maritime shipping and international flights combined, the submission added. In 2017, the European Union said that the EU textile industry produced an estimated 16 million tons of waste annually.
In the Netherlands, a business called Mud Jeans wants to produce jeans in a sustainable manner using organic cotton and recycled denim. The company’s goal is to eventually design jeans produced from 100 percent recycled denim.
When it comes to the manufacturing process, it is also looking to use sustainable methods.
“Energy efficiency is very high up on our agenda,” Eva Engelen, who works on corporate social responsibility at Mud Jeans, told CNBC’s “Sustainable Energy.” “We do this through prioritizing energy efficient production processes and supply chain partners.”
“For example, our fabric mill, Tejidos Royo, they have an energy generation system … in their factory, which uses the steam from the production lines to produce energy through a steam turbine,” she added. Engelen explained that the system allowed the site to be “100 percent self-sufficient with regards to energy.”
In a bid to prevent waste in the clothing industry, Mud Jeans has also developed a leasing system for its products, through which customers can pay 12 monthly instalments of 7.50 euros ($8.51).
At the end of that period, they can decide to keep the jeans or send them back to the business. Mud Jeans’ CEO Bert van Son told CNBC that if the latter took place, “we promise that we will use the raw material again.”
Looking at the broader picture, work still needs to be done to ensure that the fashion sector becomes sustainable.
“The clothing industry is recognized as possibly the second most polluting industry globally,” Steve Evans, director of research in industrial sustainability at the University of Cambridge’s Institute of Manufacturing, told CNBC.
“It knows this and it’s energetic in trying to change it,” Evans added. “It’s a very convoluted industry though: The brands don’t own their own factories, so their ability to influence what the factories do, how they create pollution in their local water, air and land, is difficult.”
Evans added that well-known brands were becoming more sustainable every year. Issues will not be sorted out overnight, however.
“Most factories and industries around the world are pushing very hard to make sure that their products arrive to consumers at the lowest possible cost,” Evans went on to explain. “You love them for doing that for you,” he added.
“Unfortunately, it means that they’re really focusing hard on labor productivity and capital productivity and they’ve put less attention on things like energy productivity. With 200 years of not tackling energy productivity, that gives them a really juicy thing to squeeze and if they do tackle it they can go a long way very quickly.”