Future Fashion I - Sustainable Textiles

Posted in: biobased

This article investigates the sustainability of widely used natural and synthetic textiles, detailing current practices and when appropriate presenting a range of new technologies from which alternative sustainable biobased textiles could arise.

Fashion is a rapidly growing industry supported by a perpetual cycle of supply-and-demand. Unfortunately, the industry and its related activities are having catastrophic impacts on the environment, causing huge greenhouse gas emissions, water pollution and notoriously displaying poor waste management. Most clothes are manufactured in developing countries while most are bought in richer western countries, hence creating a disconnect between two parts of the world and leading to these environmental consequences seeming fairly “invisible” to us in the west.

Every year, the fashion industry is responsible for 10% of all GHG emissions worldwide, including 4% of global CO2 emissions. That share is expected to jump to about 25% of global GHG emissions by 2050. To put this into context, aviation and maritime shipping combined are currently responsible for 4.4% of global GHG emissions, including 4.1% of global CO2 emissions. Every stage of clothing production is energy intensive, starting with the harvesting of natural fibers which relies on fuels, and the production of synthetic fibers which requires petroleum as feedstock and fossil-generated electricity used to spin and weave the fibers. The latter manufacturing stages also require huge amounts of energy in the forms of electricity and heating. Although both oil and natural gas are used, production mainly relies on coal-generated electricity, especially as most factories are situated in China where coal is the most prevalent energy source. A large share of the aviation, shipping and road transport industry is dedicated to moving raw materials, fabrics and finished clothing around the globe every year, further increasing fashion’s carbon footprint. As the industry grows, it is projected that its freight use will triple by 2040. 

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This article was written by Thea Allary, Research Analyst at NNFCC.

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