Fast Fashion and Fossil Fuels: The Impacts of Cheap Fashion
The impacts of insatiable fast fashion, the revolving of trends with every season, are snowballing into widespread pollution, a waste crisis, and the exploitation of workers. And there are few signs of change.
Written and researched by the Changing Markets Foundation (CMF), ‘Fossil Fashion: The Hidden Reliance on Fossil Fuels’ outlines how the use of synthetic fibres such as polyester has doubled in textiles over the last 20 years and has become ‘dangerously dependant’ on synthetic fibres.
Changing Markets Foundation’s campaign manager, Urska Trunk, said: “The addiction of fashion brands to cheap polyester and other oil-derived fibres is coming at a time when the world is moving away from fossil fuels. But instead of moving away from synthetic fibres, which are causing an ecological disaster, brands want you to think they’ve got this under control and they can keep producing ever more clothes.
"Without prompt and radical legislative action and a considerable slowdown, fast fashion’s quest for cheap clothing will create untenable volumes of waste and toxic microfibres and emit more carbon than the planet can handle."
The report claims that while big brands may public claim good motives and concerns for sustainability, they’re effectively just greenwashing as the majority of claims apply to a tiny portion of total sales. It further warns, “and a considerable slowdown, fast fashion’s quest for cheap clothing will continue to generate untenable volumes of waste and emit more carbon than the planet can handle.”
Why is fast fashion the culprit?
The production of synthetic fibres relies on the extraction of fossil fuels, such as crude oil and gas. Further impacts include carbon emissions, oil spills, methane emissions, water and air pollution, and impacts on human health.
The report estimates that the use of synthetic fibres, caused mainly by cheap fast-fashion, will increase from 69 to 73 per cent market share within the next 10 years, 85% of which is expected to be polyester.
More notable numbers from the CMF:
- The carbon footprint of a single polyester shirt is 5.5kg compared to 2.1kg for a cotton shirt.
- Since the early 2000s, fashion production has doubled and is expected to grow in volume from 62 million tonnes in 2015 to 102 million tonnes by 2030,1 representing $3.3 trillion in value.
- According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation (EMF), CO2 emissions for synthetic clothing are six times higher than those for cotton (530 million tonnes of CO2 for plastic-based fibres in comparison to 86 million tonnes for cotton).
- In 2015, polyester production for textiles alone was responsible for over 700 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent – similar to the annual GHG emissions of Mexico35 or those of 180 coal-fired power plants. This is projected to nearly double by 2030 to 1.2 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent, reaching twice the annual GHG emissions of Australia.
As legislation through the looms, looking to drive more sustainable practices within the industry, the CMF outlines its recommendations for consideration and suggests governments worldwide should commit to developing ambitious legislation for the textile sector.
Gartner: Women in supply chain at five-year high
Women now represent a greater percentage of the supply chain workforce than at any other point in at least the past five years, according to a recent Gartner survey.
The Women in Supply Chain Survey 2021, conducted by Gartner and Awesome, surveyed 223 supply chain organisations with more than $100m in annual revenue from February through to the end of March 2021.
- Women represent 2% more of supply chain workforce than in 2020
- Women now account for 42% of the workforce
- Number of women in exec-level positions declined by 2%
- Just 15% of top leadership are women (17% in 2020)
- 84% of organisations say COVID-19 did not impact efforts to advance women
It found that women now represent two per cent more of the supply chain workforce than in 2020, accounting for 42%, compared with 39% last year. Dana Stiffler, Vice President Analyst with the Gartner Supply Chain practice, says the impact of COVID-19 on supply chain was significant, though different to other sectors.
"Contrary to other industries, supply chain’s mission-criticality during the COVID-19 pandemic has meant that many sectors did not reduce their workforce, but rather continued to hire and even faced talent shortages, especially in the product supply chains," she said. "This resulted in many women not only standing their ground in supply chain organisations but increasing their representation in organisations. We also recorded a record number of specific commitments and supply chain-led actions and saw existing programs starting to pay off."
Supply chain still lacks women in executive leadership
But the elephant in the boardroom remains. Though the figures present a positive step towards greater diversity and gender equality at all levels, the number of women in executive level positions declined by two per cent in the past year. Women represent just 15% of the upper echelons of supply chain leadership. Gartner did however record a rise in women at all other levels of leadership.
The vast majority (84%) of organisations surveyed said the outbreak had no discernible impact on their ability to retain and advance women. But more than half (54%) admitted that retaining mid-career women was becoming increasingly difficult. A lack of career opportunities was cited as the biggest challenge to this, while other blamed a lack of development opportunities.
Despite these challenges, companies of all sizes are becoming broadly better at gender diversity. Around a third more said they had a targeted initiative focused on attracting women and advancing their careers.
Stiffler said a push towards measurable and formal initiatives is at least pointing in the right direction: “It's encouraging to see that the larger share of this jump was for more formal targets and specific goals on management scorecards. For these respondents, there is greater accountability for results — and we see the correlation with stronger representation and inclusion showing up in pipelines.”