Green. Eco. Conscious. Climate Positive. Carbon Negative. The conversation around fashion’s social and environmental impacts is riddled with jargon. In a time where we’re all waking up to the far-reaching impact of our modern lifestyles, many of us are looking to make better decisions but the majority of these marketing slogans are just that — catchphrases with untraceable statistics and vague claims. Without data and transparency around these claims, we lack good quality information needed to understand our impact and as result are no closer to making informed decisions.
If we’re serious about tackling the climate crisis, we need to face the fact that, the only way to reduce the impact of our consumption habits, is to shop less — regardless of what the incumbents want us to believe. Together with Mathias Wikström CEO of start-up Doconomy, Jacob Östberg Professor of Advertising and PR, as well as Niclas Ihrén Sustainability Strategist at Matters Group, we urge the fashion industry to stop misleading their customers with vague marketing claims, and for the media to do more in examining environmental claims before writing about them.
Fuelled by a pervasive consumer awareness of the climate crisis, many brands are releasing new environmental initiatives, but despite their well seeming intentions many of these so called ‘guilt-free’ alternatives, serve as no more than an excuse for consumers to continue shopping at the same rate as before. The fashion industry is built on a business model that relies on constant renewal. And fast fashion in particular is focused on a high volume, low price model which is inherently destructive. At the same time these brands peddle marketing campaigns with sustainability promises that cannot be verified.
Labelling something ‘green’ does not absolve its impact. Every garment that is produced creates an environmental debt, with the fashion industry being one of the planet’s heaviest industries.
Most individuals want to make more informed purchasing decisions nowadays, but as it stands it’s near impossible to check a company’s environmental claims and credentials, due to a lack of available information. This shortage of good data is impeding any efforts to build a more sustainable industry.
Amongst one of the biggest issues is that the lack of good information stems from the fact that the fashion industry is propped up by fragmented and opaque supply chains. Only 7% of clothing brands are able to verify where their raw materials come from, according to the Fashion Transparency Index 2020. Nor do statistics of relative environmental savings during a garments production do much good — just as you don’t save money by shopping on sale, you do not save on emissions if you’re buying something new.
What we need to see is a total overhaul in the way the industry both operates and communicates. A starting point would be for companies to map and communicate the true environmental impact of a garment from manufacturing to sales, or even further. A Life Cycle Assessment, for example, would show the true CO2 emissions, energy use and water consumption. Only by reporting these figures in black and white can companies, and consumers alike, recognise that all products have an impact and with it make the right efforts to reduce that impact.
To begin with every company regardless of industry or size can start by tracing their supply chain. Here at ASKET we introduced our Full Traceability Standard where together with our supplier and traceability tools such as TrusTrace we work to uncover the entirety of our supply chain, we’re 84% of the way there, and are working towards 100% by 2021.
But traceability is just the first step, from there they can investigate further. Already today, there are intelligent tools, developed in line with the UN’s climate goals, which allow companies and brands to calculate the climate impact of individual product, free of charge. Doconomy’s 2030 Calculator is at the forefront of this. The more companies use and contribute real data, the more accurate these type of calculators become.
Conducting a Life Cycle Assessment is not easy feat, it’s both complicated and time consuming to uncover the impact of a garments production from cotton seed to final t-shirt, but it can be done. We recently introduced: The Impact Receipt, a new kind of receipt which goes far beyond the traditional itemised cash receipt. Instead, we breaks down and shares the true environmental impact of a garment’s creation, covering CO2e emitted, amount of water used as well as energy consumed. We invested in a two year Life Cycle Assessment with RISE (Research Institute of Sweden) to calculate the impact of every garment in our permanent collection, with information available for our top selling garments to begin with; The T-shirt, The Oxford Shirt, The Chino and all Merino knitwear — and the whole collection will be complete by Mid-2021. For the current items the information can be found on the individual product pages as well as an educational landing page. Once the entire collection’s impact has been calculated, consumers will receive an impact receipt with their purchases- which we believe is fundamental in being able to appreciate the impact of our choices.
With that, we urge for government’s worldwide to make it mandatory for companies to increase the level of traceability in their supply chain, as a prerequisite for the next stage to work with accurate data and conduct impact calculations — not only for the apparel industry but for any product or industry. In addition, we call for stricter legislation to prevent misleading marketing, specifically in the field of sustainability. Without supporting data, brands should not be allowed to make unfounded claims.
But before that happens, consumers need help seeing through vague sustainability promises. Therefore, we hope that the media will increase their critical scrutiny of the fashion industry. Media plays an important role in helping consumers unravel the fashion industry at the seams. When a company talks about sustainable products or investments without reporting facts, the promise should be examined doubly so.
We also want to encourage consumers to refrain from buying garments with unclear claims about sustainability. Until stricter requirements are placed on companies, it is best to invest in fewer garments that you know you will use for a long time. Ultimately, the single best thing we can do, is simply consume less. But the greatest responsibility lies with the companies themselves — to put an end to misleading marketing campaigns that only serve an unsustainable business model and instead fundamentally review their entire business models.