Life Cycle Analysis of the Fashion Industry

Topics: Sustainability, Life cycle assessment, Environmentalism Pages: 15 (4833 words) Published: September 1, 2013
Industrial Ecology Practices in the Fashion Industry

The industrial revolution in the 1800s brought a paradigm shift to the way humans interacted with the environment. The increased capability of producing and manufacturing on a large scale, the rise of multiple industries, growing demand and proliferation of hedonistic consumption patterns, has created a culture of surplus, want and waste. (Falasca-Zamponi, 2012) From an environmental point of view, this resource hungry trend is unsustainable and has detrimental ecological impacts, such as pollution and climate change. These problems have highlighted the consequence of our insatiable demand for resources and the need to rethink current practices and thoughts in order to maintain current living standards and ensure future growth. The ideas of environmental management, industrial ecology and ecological footprint have been proposed to allow for a meticulous look to the products that we manufacture and use, with emphasis on measuring the ecological impacts in hopes of reducing them. A multitude of tools have since been created to measure efficiency in hopes to highlight areas for improvement, of which the ISO standard and Life cycle assessment are part of. Undoubtedly, many companies have adopted life cycle analysis (LCA) in order to assess and reduce their product’s impact on the environment. The fashion industry, at its core, is based on the notion of continual consumption of the ‘new’ and the discard of the ‘old’, especially with new seasonal lines coming out every 3 months. The industry celebrates creativity with the continuous turnover of trends, leading to the “premature product replacement and fashion obsolescence”. This constant change has major negative environmental and social impacts, particularly on those at the bottom of the supply chain. (Allwood et al, 2006; Hethorn and Ulasewicz, 2008) Moreover, delocalised production, often all over the world, is commonly practiced in line with the competitive advantages of different locales (such as low-cost labour, less stringent standards/regulations, strength in technology etc). Studies of Allwood et al (2006), Madsen et al (2007) and Fletcher (2008) have highlighted issues of apparel waste as the majority of textile waste are not recycled or reuse but usually ends up in landfills. In this report, Nike Inc. and Levi Strauss & Co. are chosen as case studies of the fashion industry for their efforts to apply LCA to their products.

Life Cycle Assessment and ISO14040
The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) is an organisation that aims to promote worldwide standards for proprietary, industrial and commercial purposes. (ISO, 2013) The ISO 14000 series is a family of standards that related to environmental management, which aims to help organisations measure and minimise operations that will negatively affect the environment and comply with environmental regulations and audits required in the country of operation. For example, the ISO 14001 is integral to the European Union’s Eco-Management and Audit Scheme (EMAS). (EMAS, 2011) Before the development of the ISO 14000 series, most organisations had to rely on internal environmental management systems that made comparisons between companies difficult. The ISO 14040 standard focuses on Life Cycle Assessment. LCA is a technique to assess environment impacts associated with all the stages of a product’s life from its raw material extraction to its processing, manufacture, distribution, use, repair, recycle and disposal. It is believed to encompass a larger scope of environmental concerns as the compiled inventory of relevant energy and material inputs and environmental releases includes the potential impacts associated with the identified inputs and releases, which can then be interpreted to help make informed decisions and build corporate environmental strategies. (EPA, 2013) The method is most often used for the pinpointing potential for...

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