The world of fashion, much like many other sectors, is facing an unprecedented challenge: minimizing its environmental footprint. To understand where and how we can act to reduce the impact of the fashion industry, it is crucial to look at the entire value chain.
Part 1: The production of raw materials
The fashion industry begins with the production of raw materials, mainly cotton and polyester. Around 25% of all chemicals produced globally are used for the textile industry, particularly for cotton cultivation. This also requires massive amounts of water - up to 20,000 liters to produce 1 kg of cotton. In addition, cotton production is responsible for 18% of global water pollution from pesticides.
The carbon footprint of cotton production is estimated at around 5.5 kg of CO2 per kilo of cotton produced. For polyester, the footprint is even higher: about 9.5 kg of CO2 are emitted for each kilo of polyester produced.
Spinning and weaving are the next steps in the value chain. These processes require energy, mainly for heating and electricity, contributing to their carbon footprint. For instance, producing one kilogram of cotton fabric can result in approximately 1.5 kg of CO2.
Part 2: Manufacturing
The manufacturing stage involves turning textiles into clothing. It is estimated that 15 to 20% of the fabric is wasted during this phase. For instance, for a standard cotton shirt, about 0.6 kg of fabric waste is produced, resulting in emissions of around 1 kg of CO2.
Part 3: Marketing
Marketing encompasses everything from delivery to returns of clothing. CO2 emissions from transport vary enormously depending on distance and mode of transport. On average, transportation of clothing can account for about 5% of a garment's total carbon footprint. Returns, especially for online purchases, can also add to this footprint, with an estimate of up to an additional 10%.
Part 4: End of life of products
In France, only about 35% of clothing is recycled. In Europe, this figure is slightly higher, at about 40%. Non-recycled clothing typically ends up in landfills or is incinerated, which can release harmful chemicals and greenhouse gases.
The fashion industry has a significant environmental footprint, not only in terms of CO2 emissions but also water pollution and resource waste. Measures can be taken at each step of the value chain to reduce this impact.
Initiatives to encourage the use of organic cotton or recycled polyester can help reduce the impact of raw material production. Innovation in spinning and weaving can reduce energy consumption, and more efficient manufacturing models can minimize waste. Finally, encouraging consumers to buy more thoughtfully, recycle, and extend the lifespan of their clothes can help mitigate the impact of marketing and the end of life of products.
The environmental footprint of the fashion industry is a complex problem that requires a systemic approach. By adopting a more holistic view, we can all contribute to making fashion a more sustainable sector.