Fast fashion, often in the sustainability spotlight, epitomises the linear take-make-waste model. With demand driven by low price points and quickly changing trends the industry is responsible for 10% of global carbon emissions, 20% of industrial water pollution, and 92 million tonnes of textile waste annually. The cheap polyester fabrics that make the industry possible send more than half a million tonnes of microfibres into the ocean each year, some of which is consumed by marine life and returns to become part of our food chain8.
Fast fashion, often in the sustainability spotlight, epitomises the linear take-make-waste model… But as consumer awareness of the industry’s impact grows, so too do opportunities for sustainable fashion brands
But as consumer awareness of the industry’s impact grows, so too do opportunities for sustainable fashion brands. Patagonia, which is targeting net-zero emissions across its entire business by 2025, and is moving away from a demand-based model, has seen revenue quadruple over the past decade. A growing number of new labels are finding success in similar ways, taking market share by openly eschewing speed, keeping waste to a minimum by producing only to order, and putting sustainability and ethical sourcing at the forefront of their offering.
Reselling platforms, too, are disrupting the industry – in 2019 the resale market grew twenty-one times faster than the conventional clothing industry, and in the US is expected to more than triple again in value over the next decade9. It’s a move that’s vital if we are to successfully make the shift to a sustainable CLIC™ economy, one that’s Circular, Lean, Inclusive and Clean. To stay within the Paris temperature target consultants Mckinsey & Company estimate that, “by 2030 we need to live in a world in which one in five garments are traded through circular business models10.”
Read also: The CLIC™ Chronicles: Is this a new era for old goods? How the second-hand market can promote a circular economy
Mapping from space
Costa Rica has become the first tropical country to reverse the damage of decades of deforestation, an outcome achieved by taxing fossil fuels to allow them to literally invest in nature. The USD 500 million produced by the ring-fenced tax has funded payments to farmers to protect and re-grow rainforest, supporting jobs and providing an important resource in their sizeable tourist industry. While Costa Rica’s success provides one blueprint, solutions are not always straightforward to apply in other contexts. One of the key challenges is to identify the impact of policy on environmental outcomes at the macro level, and this is an area where technology may offer universal solutions.
Satellite technology has been used to map the speed and location of forest clearing for decades, mapping the scale, pace and location of tree loss, and even providing real-time alerts to authorities
Satellite technology has been used to map the speed and location of forest clearing for decades, mapping the scale, pace and location of tree loss, and even providing real-time alerts to authorities. The latest generation of satellites are now extending this capability to imaging much harder to spot greenhouse gas emissions, providing the ability to evaluate and pinpoint where and how emissions are impacting the planet. Canadian company GHGSat, which joined the field in 2021, plans to launch three of their leading-edge satellites this year, each of which will represent an upgrade even on their ground-breaking 2021 versions13. GHGSat’s satellites are able to detect methane emissions one hundred times smaller than are visible to current satellites and to pinpoint the precise location of emissions. This latest technology will provide firms with data to direct on-the-ground decision-making and will give governments a much greater ability to measure and react to the impact of emissions policies.
It is important…to see the progress that is being made and the opportunity that exists, the opportunity to invest in our future by investing in the organizations that are rising to the sustainability challenge
The scale of the climate crisis must not be downplayed – global carbon emissions, after a brief respite in 2020, are again on the rise14, and we have now passed four of the nine planetary boundaries in which humanity can live safely. But it is important, too, to see the progress that is being made and the opportunity that exists, the opportunity to invest in our future by investing in the organizations that are rising to the sustainability challenge.
Once a story of activists taking on a recalcitrant industry, the sustainability narrative has shifted. The challenge is now a joint effort, with business and government joining together to create opportunities for employment, energy cost savings, revenue growth, and for investment returns – all while doing good.
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10 https://www.mckinsey.com/~/media/mckinsey/industries/retail/our insights/fashion on climate/fashion-on-climate-full-report.pdf