Our culture especially in North America has been consumed by work, and the economy to the point that it is actually affecting our health. Now what if I told you that the clothes you buy and wear is affecting you and our planet’s health? Believe it or not there is so much hidden information that we as consumers, buyers, designers, and manufacturers are not aware of, nor has it been made a priority to be made known.
Sustainability is a term most people couldn’t define, and when I asked several people what they think sustainability is, their responses were mostly “I don’t know.” Before I took my Ethics and Sustainability class, I was also in the dark when it came to sustainability but knowing what I know now, it is not something I could just keep to myself. Sustainability or lack there of specifically within the fashion and textile industry is referred to the consumption of our resources (water, energy, chemicals, land), the emissions and waste produced that affects our land, water and air which causes an imbalance in our lifecycle. It’s a pretty BIG DEAL! Now why don't they teach us this in high school? The things that I have come to learn in my Ethics and Sustainability class are mind-boggling and very concerning.
Consumers have no idea what’s involved when making a garment. Do you really think about it when you purchase a garment? No, I certainly didn’t before. Some consumers only care about buying the "cheapies" and have the mentality “why pay more?” But in reality, the cheaper the garment, the cheaper the chemicals used, which also means the more hazardous they are. I'm not saying the more expensive garments do not use chemicals at all but their quality and impact on the environment is certainly less concerning. The chemicals used, especially to finish the garment (dying, bleaching, wrinkle-free, anti-static etc.) not only affect our planet but it also affects us. Our skin is the largest organ on our body and it will absorb these health hazardous chemicals that we unknowingly put on our bodies. A dye called Azo 22 has been banned in Europe because it is known to produce carcinogenic amines (cancerous) but it is not banned in North America, now why is that? Is it because it is cheap? It’s something to think about.
On another note, over 80% of the world’s market is made from cotton and polyester. Measurably, 24.40 million tons of cotton is in demand and 24.70 million tons of polyester is in demand. Cotton is sprayed with pesticides and a defoliate to make it grow faster. Pesticides account for 50% of the cost of cotton, and it is the worst for water consumption. “In cultivation, cotton uses 8000 litres of water for just 1 kg. of cotton. Polyester on the other hand is a synthetic fibre made out of petrochemicals; its water consumption is very low, next to nothing but it requires a large amount of energy to be produced. To have an idea, it requires approximately 109 mega joules of energy consumption for just 1 kg. of polyester; emissions to water and air can be high if untreated.” (K.Fletcher, p. 9). Knowing facts like these should definitely concern us and a priority should be made to support and find other alternatives for garments such as organic cotton, or hemp. Organic cotton is actually more expensive and more time consuming to produce, as it uses no chemicals. Most consumers are not willing to wait and are not willing to pay the higher cost. Ironically, those same consumers could suffer from health issues such as cancer in the long run all because of their choices to buy cheaper garments.
Over the past 20 years there has been some changes and new developments in fibres produced that are “eco-friendly” such as organic cotton, low-chemical cotton, poly lactid acid (PLA, renewable resource from corn or sugarcane), lyocell (made from wood pulp, biodegradable). Some companies make their corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs or initiatives to create less of a negative impact on the earth by making it a priority to reach internal goals such as a goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, reduce energy usage and so on for their products as well as making their packaging recyclable. For example, Nike and Mark’s and Spencer make their efforts by using 5% of organic cotton in their lines. Estée Lauder Companies Inc., which products include M•A•C, Clinique, Smashbox to name a few has impressive CSR initiatives and a focus on the environment. Their focus is to eliminate waste, and reduce inefficiencies. They have been able to reduce their greenhouse gas intensity by 16% in 2011. Estée Lauder has a CSR report available on their website.
A high-end line, Dosa also tries to conserve energy by using “traditional, hand-loomed fabrics, organic wool and undyed-spun wild silk.” (K.Fletcher, p.71). Global company, Interface, a world leader in the carpet industry are committed to reducing environmental impact, improving their energy efficiency, eliminating waste and transporting their products more efficiently to eliminate pollution. They even have a “Metric highlight” on their website with graphs on their energy usage, greenhouse gas emissions, waste, water usage and more. Way to go Interface!
This is only the tip of iceberg but knowing this can potentially make us think twice when purchasing certain garments, certain fabrics and be more open to environmentally friendly fibres. Doing your research on a clothing company can help , but we all have the power to make a difference, save our earth, and our resources for good health and for our future generations. Do not ignore it, it's very real.
Thank you for your CSR Initiatives in sustainability!
Marks & Spencer
Fletcher, Kate. Sustainable Fashion & Textiles. New York: Earthscan, 2008