According to figures from the United Nations Environment Programme, it takes 3,781 liters of water to make a pair of jeans. That equates to the emission of around 33.4 kilograms of carbon equivalent.
If that is for just one pair of jeans, imagine the environmental cost for everything in our wardrobes. The following statistics give us an idea:
- Every year the fashion industry uses 93 billion cubic meters of water — enough to meet the consumption needs of five million people.
- Around 20 % of wastewater worldwide comes from fabric dyeing and treatment.
- The fashion industry is responsible for 10 % of annual global carbon emissions, more than all international flights and maritime shipping combined.
The fashion industry’s operating model is exacerbating the problem by stepping up the pace of design and production. Collection launches are no longer seasonal; the replacement of clothing inventories has become much more frequent. The dizzying pace of apparel manufacturing has also accelerated consumption: the average person today buys 60 % more clothing than in 2000, the data show. And not only do they buy more, they also discard more as a result.
The fashion industry is key for economic development: it is valued at some USD 2.4 billion globally and directly employees 75 million people throughout its value chain. This makes it a challenge for clothing makers to grow without being an enemy of the environment.
Foundations like Ellen MacArthur and initiatives such as the recently formed UN Alliance for Sustainable Fashion, in which the World Bank’s Connect4Climate program and other organizations participate, are calling for a new textile economy. Some leading brands have answered this call and are working to identify fiber alternatives and develop more eco-friendly processes. Technology and research are also playing a key role in making the industry more sustainable.
To make the garment industry more sustainable, all actors must get involved, from designers to manufacturers, critics, and consumers. Without consumers making a change, the efforts are in vain. They must become aware of what they buy.