CO DATA: Measuring Fashion's Ecological Footprint

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Fashion's ecological footprint is big. Just how big is hard to gauge but this digest of data nails down details on how fashion is damaging the planet - right now and by 2030.

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Key Takeaways

  • This data digest offers details on current and near-future ecological impacts - water and oil consumption, CO2 emissions, chemical use, waste, and biodiversity loss.

  • Fashion's consumption of resources - especially water and oil - is projected to double by 2030.

  • Unchecked, such patterns could leave some countries facing tough choices between using resource to meet human need or supply the industry. 

  • Sources include: Pulse Report, Ellen MacArthur Foundation, various sector bodies and academic research. 

Fashion clearly has an outsized impact on the planet. Industry processes from cultivation of raw materials to fabric and garment manufacturing, related activities such as transport and logistics, and consumer usage from washing to discarding items - all these stages adversely affect the environment. 

Quantifying fashion's ecological footprint in a definitive way is difficult as different data sources present different parameters. It is nonetheless a worthwhile task as it gives a sobering picture of how far fashion is affecting the planet and how urgently it needs to change. 

If current trends continue, the environmental impact of the fashion industry could cost €100 billion per year in lost value creation by 2030.

According to The Pulse of the Fashion Industry 2017 report1, if current trends continue, the fashion industry's environmental impact will snowball - growing by 50% by 2030, and potentially costing the industry up to €100 billion per year in lost value creation. 

So large and complex are these impacts, their unchecked consequences could leave countries facing dilemmas over whether to use scarce resource for sustaining human life or supplying the industry. 

This digest draws together data on the current and near-future ecological impacts of fashion - water consumption, oil consumption, carbon dioxide emissions including from transport, chemical use, effects of waste on land and seas, biodiversity loss and land use. 

The digest takes as its starting point the Pulse Report, which was presented to the Copenhagen Fashion Summit in 2017, and brings in other data not covered by that publication. These sources include research by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, the World Wildlife Fund, academic journal publications and statistics from various sector bodies.  

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