The fashion industry is one of the world’s most environmentally damaging and polluting sectors. It is one of the most intensive users of natural resources like water, energy and land, and is responsible for polluting many of the communities where it operates. Today, clothes have the fourth largest environmental impact just behind food, transport and housing.
Cheap fast fashion dominates our high streets encouraging unbridled consumption, generating high levels of waste and using huge volumes of resources to produce clothes which are poorly made, barely worn and quickly replaced.
In the UK, we are throwing away around 300,000 tonnes of clothes every year, much of it wearable. At the same time, we are buying more clothes than ever. Between 2012 and 2016, the amount of clothes purchased in the UK increased by a massive 200,000 tonnes.
Our wardrobes are bigger, we update them more frequently and clothes are increasingly regarded as disposable.
The fashion industry is unsustainable, and its development will have a serious impact on achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals, particularly Goal 12 – to ensure sustainable consumption and production. Many of Goal 12’s targets directly apply to the fashion industry from reducing waste by reusing and recycling to integrating sustainable practices into production cycles.
As a $2.5 trillion dollar industry, and one of the largest employers in the world, especially of women, the fashion industry is also intimately linked to achieving other Global Goals relating to gender equality (it is estimated that women make up around 80% of fashion’s global workforce), to eradicating poverty (the industry is regularly criticised for paying poverty wages to its workforce, many of which live in some of the world’s poorest countries), and to water pollution and water use inefficiency (a single cotton t-shirt uses around 2,500 litre of water which would take around 3-years to drink).
It’s not just the producers who can make a difference. Goal 12 directly addresses consumers including our right to become more aware of sustainable development issues and how the life style choices we make impacts the environment for better or worse. For the Global Goals to succeed, we need all sectors of society to collaborate to implement them.
The 23% Campaign is one way to turn the goal of more sustainable consumption and production into a reality in our day-to-day lives.