Issues and Solutions
Please note: This report focuses on environmental impacts and solutions associated with apparel, a second report will present the equally complex social responsibility (SR) issues associated with this industry’s life cycle including fair trade, fair labor and animal well-being issues. Published by Labeling Ecologically Approved Fabrics (LEAF) Special thanks to: Coral Rose, Founder Eco-Innovations Sustainable Textile Strategies Dr. Gwendolyn Hustvedt-Professor of Textiles, Texas State University Eric Brody, Principle, Shift Advantage Consulting
Photo Courtesy Mary Kent Hearon, MK@theweeklybeet.com
The fashion industry is a global, trend-setting pioneer. Such influence provides an opportunity to inspire shifts on the international scale as this industry leads a pervasive transition towards even more sustainable and socially responsible ways of conducting business. Thank you for reviewing this report that explores both the systemic issues, as well as the exciting solutions happening throughout the life cycle of this pioneering industry.
Impacts and Concerns
The environmental footprint of creating apparel varies based on the methods used to produce and extract the resources; the process to create, dye and finish the materials; the steps to cut, sew and assemble the products, and the packaging and distribution systems to move and deliver the product. Examples of the environmental impacts of these steps are discussed below:
Conventional Cotton Farming
Cotton uses approximately 25% of the world's insecticides and more than 10% of the pesticides (including herbicides, insecticides, and defoliants). Fifty-five million pounds of pesticides were sprayed on the 12.8 million acres of conventional cotton grown in the U.S. in 2003 (4.3 pounds/ acre), ranking cotton third behind corn and soybeans in total amount of pesticides sprayed. (USDA) The Environmental Protection Agency considers seven of the top 15 pesticides used on cotton in 2000 in the United States as "possible," "likely," "probable," or "known" human carcinogens (acephate, dichloropropene, diuron, fluometuron, pendimethalin, tribufos, and trifluralin). (EPA) 2 Cotton is a very water intensive crop. Over fifty percent of cotton fields in the world require irrigation, and the majority of these crops are in regions where water is scarce. These irrigated cotton fields produce over seventy percent of the total 3. It takes an average of 3,644 cubic meters of water to grow one cotton grown in the world
Organic Trade Association. (2009) Cotton and the Environment. http://www.ota.com/organic/environment/ cotton_environment.html 2 3
Soth, J., Grasser, C., and Salerno, R. (1999) The impact of cotton on fresh water resources and ecosystems: A preliminary analysis, WWF, Gland, Switzerland.
ton of cotton in the top fifteen cotton producing countries 4. That equates to about 347 gallons of water to grow one pound of cotton. The impacts on the Aral Sea are a notorious example of the effects of water abstractions for irrigation. In the period 1960-2000, the Aral Sea in Central Asia lost approximately 70% of its volume as a result of diverting water from the rivers that ran to the sea in order to grow cotton in the desert 5.
Synthetic Fibers (Polyester, Nylons and Acrylics)
The consumption of non-renewable resources (petrochemicals) is required to produce two very common synthetics used in the apparel industry, polyester and nylon. Relatively large amounts of energy are consumed in the production of synthetics, which has far-reaching environmental implications, including the release of green house gasses. Emissions to air and water that have a medium to high potential of causing environmental damage if discharged untreated including: heavy metal cobalt; manganese salts; sodium bromide and titanium dioxide. Rayon and Acetate represent an estimated 4 % of the market. Rayon a cellulosic raw material is...