Our planet needs some love. Fashion. Fast fashion, to be exact, is hurting our planet and the people in it. The fashion industry is the second dirtiest in the world, next to oil & gas. The good news? More and more people are now choosing sustainable clothing options. We’re beginning to realize that fast fashion becomes fast trash.
Fifty Seasons a Year (srly?)
Whether it?s high-waisted jean shorts, two-piece pant suits, or pineapple print button down, trends seem to cycle in and out weekly. Styles, colors, and prints are marketed and changed every season. What’s more, the fashion industry isn’t limited to four seasons. The need to stay competitive has led to fashion micro-seasons that number?50-100 a year. People have become conditioned to believe that they must wear the latest trend and that clothing is disposable.
The average consumer bought 60% more clothing in 2014 than in 2000, but kept them half as long. ~McKinsey & Company
The Spell of Convenience
As a 23 year old woman, I can understand what’s driving this trend. Just recently I bought a new pair of shorts from one of the many fast fashion stores. I remember thinking, “these probably won’t last long but it doesn?t matter because they’ll be out of style before they fall apart.” I realize this is a terrible mentality. And yet, it’s what happens when we’re looking for convenience. It’s also explains why fast fashion impacts our planet to such a high degree.?Every purchase and disposal of clothing is a burden on our planet’s resources.
Fashion + Commerce
Fashion existed long before commerce did, and satisfies deep human needs; a sense of self and sense of belonging or differentiating oneself from a group. At its root fashion is not unsustainable. Rather, it’s our current way of pursuing commerce, which is unsustainable. ~Lynda Grose,Fashion Isn’t the Problem, the Industry Needs to Change
In order to better align the beauty and artistry of fashion with everyday commerce, we must first understand the impact of the fast fashion life cycle.
Fast Fashion: A Look Behind the Curtain
Here’s an example of the journey our clothes make before they end up in our closet.
The fast fashion supply chain. At every stage there exists extraction and pollution of our natural resources.
There are many steps involved in the process that lead to fast fashion’s impact on the planet. Starting with raw materials, clothing dye, textile manufacturing, clothing construction, shipping, retail, use and disposal, the fashion industry creates a large footprint from beginning to end. Pesticides to grow the cotton, toxic dyes, transportation
pollution, water and the eventual discarding of the clothes add to the impact.
1. What it Takes to Grow Raw Materials
Cotton and polyester are the two most used fibers in fashion. Polyester is made by chemical reaction involving coal, air, water and petroleum. This process uses a large amount of energy, usually supplied by petroleum or coal.
A study performed by MIT estimated that polyester production releases 706 billion kgs of green house gases every year, equal to 185 coal plant?emissions.
Cotton, the most common natural fiber, makes up?33% of the fibers in textile industry. It has a huge environmental footprint as it requires higher levels of pesticides and water. With the high demand for cotton, Ukraine has already started to experience issues from the large amount of water needed to grow it.
The Aral Sea water levels are 10% of what they were 50 years ago due to rivers having been diverted for irrigation. China, India, USA, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Turkey and Brazil are also textile supply chain countries with regions of high water stress.
2. Clothing Dye: Sending it Down River
Many of the dyes made for the clothing industry leads to the dumping of chemicals into nearby rivers. Dye run off often contains many heavy metals and chemicals harmful to aquatic life and people living down river. New technologies have been invented to mitigate this impact but they are expensive. Many of these locations are in poor areas and these new technologies aren’t a realistic solution. With sizable textile factories lining its shores, Indonesia’s Citarum River has become one of the most polluted rivers in the world. It is an open sewer containing lead, mercury, arsenic and a host of other toxins.
3. Textile Factories: Time to Look at Waste and Safety
Textile factors are often detrimental to both the environment and the locals who work there. Excess fabric is a byproduct of pattern cutting and it creates significant waste. Same goes for high water usage and chemical waste involved in the manufacturing process. Think about the shirt you are wearing. If your shirt was cut from a square of fabric, think about how much extra fabric is left over. It is cheaper for factories to throw away excess fabric than it is for them to maximize use.
The increased demand for cheap, fast fashion as resulted in more and more factories opening in developing?countries. Young women 18-24 primarily work at these factories, making as little as $3 a day. These sweat shops are hire underage workers for long hours, low pay, and horrible conditions. The death of over 1,000 workers in Bangladesh 5 years ago,?caused by the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory building, drove the government to?shut-down 18 garment factories over growing safety concerns.
4. Transport: Your Clothes Are World Travelers
When is the last time you bought something that was ?made in the USA?? With more than 60% of clothing?manufactured in developing countries, our clothes are already world travelers before they reach retailers. As regulation and costs continue to rise, many clothing companies look to move operations overseas. Not only can they pay workers pennies to the ?dollar compared to wages in the USA, but they can also skirt around the limited or non-existent environmental regulations.
A single large container ship can emit cancer and asthma-causing pollutants equivalent to that of 50 million cars. ~The Guardian
Plane, train, boat, truck and arriving packed in plastic, these clothing items have a huge a environmental footprint before they even reach your local retail store.
5. Retailers: Viva la Plastic
I’ve worked in retail and have seen firsthand how clothes arrive at the store. Items are individually packaged in plastic, as if each needed a hazmat suit to protect it from the plague. Every time we stocked our shelves, we were left with at least three trash bags full of plastic. My store was small, so this only happened 3 times a week. On top of it, we give you a bag to take home. Think about that. These clothes arrive in a bag. We throw out that bag. Then we give you a new bag to take with you. It’s easy to see why so much waste is created before we even ware the clothes!
6. Second Hand: Show the Love
Since fashion styles are constantly changing, clothes aren?t designed to last long. That means clothing doesn’t make it to second hand locations. Only about 20% of used clothes end up being sold in second hand retailers.?The rest end up stacked?in landfills. American send 10.5 million tons of clothing to landfills every year.
When you buy something old and previously-loved, you’re extending its lifespan and reducing its carbon footprint. ~Emily Farra, editor Vogue
What Can You Do?
What to hear something great? The tips and tricks included below will not only help our planet, they will help your wallet, too. Here are a few ways you can do well for yourself and do good for our planet. Go green and get rich!
Kick the fast fashion habit. Instead of buying a bunch of poorly made cheap and disposable clothes, invest in some well made long lasting classic pieces. Become aware of the clothing brand’s ethos. Are they just in it for the profit? Are they fair trade? Do they protect the environment or pollute it?? Support those companies that focus on sustainable manufacturing and are not only taking steps to limit their environmental impact but also support the well being of their workers.
Join the second hand clothing trend. In the past 5 years, used clothing purchasers have increased from 11% to 24% and the trend continues to grow. As??77%?of millennials prefer to buy from environmentally-
conscious brands, they are leading the thrift trends. Everyday we see?more and more options to buy second hand, from local consignment shops to online thrift stores.
Buying a used garment extends its life on average by 2.2 years which reduces carbon, waste and water footprint by 73%. ~ThredUp
I tried ThreadUp and was happy with the quality and large variety. Here’s a picture of a sports bra and top I bought for 70% off retail!
The good news? Brands are waking up. At the Copenhagen Fashion Summit in 2017, the Global Fashion Agenda called on fashion?brands and retailers to sign a commitment to accelerate the transition to a?circular fashion system.? The system looks at 4 action points:
Implement design strategies for cyclability.
Increase the volume of used garments collected.
Increase the volume of used garments resold.
Increase the share of garments made from recycled post-consumer textile fibres.
After just one year, 93 companies, representing 207 brands and 12% of the global fashion market, have committed to set a target for 2020 on one or more of the four action points.
4. Take Baby Steps + Shop With Your Heart
Because we’ve made our voices heard, companies are stepping up. Now is your chance to support companies that are working toward aligning fashion with commerce. Here are a few final tips:
Don’t get sucked into fast fashion.
Buy for beauty, authenticity and longevity. Our clothes should last.
You?ve bought your eco-friendly light bulbs and figured out how to recycle batteries. But your utility bills haven?t gone down as much as you expected. Is there anything else you can do on a budget? Turns out you can retrofit your home to help our planet and save more money.
Retrofit. That sounds expensive, doesn?t it? It doesn’t have to be. There are steps you can take to make your house environmentally friendly, save money and make yourself more comfortable at the same time.
Mind the Gaps
When I was growing up, I had 6 big windows across one wall of my room. There were little gaps in them, so my room would freeze in the winter and be scorching hot in the summer. Even in northern Texas, that was too much. I actually asked for insulation for Christmas my junior year of high school and got it.
If your doors or windows aren?t air-tight, then your thermostat has to work harder to keep the temperature steady. That?s not just uncomfortable. That?s money leaking out of your home and out of your wallet. There are DIY options that can save you 5-10% of your heating costs each year. If you can afford caulk, you can go a long way for maybe $40.
You can go a step further and hire an energy auditor. Energy auditors will find every air leak in your home and plug it. That can reduce your energy costs and your home?s environmental impact even further. In fact, this could be a good step to take if you’re planning a bigger remodeling project anyway. The Department of Energy can connect you with local energy auditors or you can look for them in your area. Check with your utilities department to see whether they offer energy audits for free. Otherwise you can hire one for $200-600. That may or may not be “low budget” for you, but the savings would justify the expense over time.
If you decide to retrofit your home, then water-usage is another major hot spot for energy use. Almost half of the water used in your home is used in your bathroom. The toilets and showers are the two biggest drains on water (pun intended.)
You can change your shower head to a low flow shower head that saves water and money. You can order a pack of two 1.5 gallon per minute shower heads for $12.98 from many hardware stores. Just for some perspective, an average shower head uses about 2.1 gallons per minute. That’s 24 gallons of water in 40 minutes.
Your toilet could also use less water. There are water bags that cost less than a dollar, but they’re temporary, so you’d have to keep buying them to cut water. It’s cheap, but it’s kind of a pain. You may be better off just buying a WaterSense toilet. They run about $160-$200. Even if your toilet already flushes at an efficient 1.6 gallons per flush, the WaterSense toilet can cut 20% of your water usage per flush. The more people you have in your home using it, the more water – and money – you’ll save over time.
But what if you live in an apartment with a radiator? You don?t have the authority to call someone to dig through the inside of the walls looking for air leaks. The good news? You probably have control over what you do with that radiator.
Radiator Labs has a product called the Cozy that can cut up to 35% off of your heating costs from a radiator. The Cozy covers your radiator and lets you control the heat settings from your phone. When you decide what temperature you want, the Cozy regulates the temperature in your apartment so that you stay comfortable. This stability keeps you comfy, reduces the fuel needed to power the radiator, and puts money back in your pocket. Who says being green has to be expensive?
OHM Connect is a wall attachment that actually pays you to save power. You can set a time when you’d like to turn some power off or reduce your usage, and you’ll earn passive income while you help the planet. If you don’t want to do a full remodel or if you feel like you’ve done everything to retrofit your home, this could be another option for you to go that step further.
Making your house into a zero-energy wonderland isn’t just about saving money (although that can be a BIG perk.) It’s about being a good steward of the environment. The house you call a home is part of a much bigger home: our planet. When you choose to green retrofit your home, then you make our planetary home that much better.
Like it or not, there?s stuff that we need from our planet. We need food, we need water, and we need the land to get both of those things and much more. But that doesn?t mean that we have to tear the world apart to get it. We need to work with the planet, not against it. Conservationists understood this from the beginning and Larry Nielsen shows us why it matters.
Who is Larry Nielsen?
?Conservation is really understanding that it?s not save everything, or people are evil, but that?together, nature and conservation can produce great things.?
Larry Nielsen is a professor at N.C. State and the author of Nature?s Allies, a book that follows eight notable conservationists and their triumphs. Conservation and environmentalism sometimes get bad names (especially where I?m from.) But those movements aren?t just about humans sacrificing everything to stop taking from our planet. It?s just about being smart.
Back home, environmentalism conjures up images of people chaining themselves to trees to save rainforests. And sometimes that?s what’s needed. But Larry draws a line between environmentalism and conservation that removes that ?zero-sum? mentality.
?The conservation perspective is the important one, I think. We recognize that our lifestyle, our quality of life, is really a function of using nature well to provide the resources that we need.”
Instead of trying to stop every person in the world from taking from our planet, we can simply be smart. We can strategize about the best way to use the resources that we have so that they can sustain us for the long term.
Conservation is a young movement and a young discipline. It?s only about 100 years old – much younger than environmentalism. However, conservation didn’t start with environmentalists who wanted to stop taking from the planet. It came from hunters.
?The people who have supported conservation and developed conservation were originally hunters and fishermen. That?s where the conservation business came from. They were people who lived and enjoyed being close to nature, close to those resources. And they [were] the first ones to realize when things [were] going off the rails. And they were the ones that said we need to support conservation.?
Some people think of hunters and fishermen as people who take indiscriminately from the world around them. But think about the regulations that they have to follow. Hunting and fishing seasons create boundaries and limits on how much they can hunt or fish. Those controls establish a partnership between our planet and the people living on it.
The idea behind the controls for hunting and fishing are about creating a balance between what we take from our planet and what we leave alone. Those ideas can be extended to the energy we consume, the food we grow, the land we cultivate, and so many other vital industries. Conservationists don?t demonize you for harvesting from the earth. They just want to make sure we don?t overload the systems we rely on. I think Larry says it best when he says:
?It seems to me that the work of conservation is to find that balance, that genius, that allows us to live sustainably on earth with nature as a partner, rather than something to be conquered.?
Couldn?t agree more, Larry. Conservationists look for a win-win between the people living on this planet and the planet itself. That sounds like a pretty good partnership, doesn’t it?
Picture this: you?ve just moved into your new home. All of the walls and furniture are bright builder?s white and you can’t wait to paint over it. But the paint you’re about to use probably isn’t toxin-free paint. The fresh-paint smell that makes you feel proud after a long day of painting is not necessarily good for your health.
What makes Paint ?Toxic??
Most store-brand paints have chemicals called volatile organic compounds, or VOCs. Leading with the word ?volatility? makes these chemicals sound scarier than they are. All it means is that some of the chemicals in the paint evaporate in a normal room. The VOCs in your paint are what make them so easy to paint with and part of why the colors look as rich and bright as they do.
But many VOCs are known carcinogens. If you smear those brightly-colored VOCs all over your walls, you probably won?t notice the effects immediately. However, if your house is poorly ventilated or you use a lot of paint at once, you may feel headaches, dizziness, and nausea. Less irritating paints only result in eye, throat, and skin irritation. In more extreme cases, overexposure to these paint fumes could lead to liver damage, kidney damage, and even contribute to the development of cancer. If that wasn’t enough reason to switch to toxin-free paint, there’s a great environmental impact, too.
Fine, it may not actually care. But it does notice. When high-VOC paint reacts with the nitrogen in the air, it depletes the ozone layer and contributes to urban smog. One household might not make a difference, but how many people have just painted new homes for their families? How many have just decided to repaint their homes? All of this adds up to impact our planet. Thankfully, there are options available that benefit the people in your home and reduce pollutants released into the environment. More and more people are switching to toxin-free paint.
There are plenty of paint brands that you can choose from that have low or zero-VOC paints. For starters, you can visit Home Depot?s page that shows you their toxin-free paint options. Home Depot is a massive distributor, so if you can find it there, that’s probably the easiest way to go.
Other companies produce toxin-free paint exclusively. ECOS Paints produces zero-VOC paints, wood varnishes, primers, and stains. They even have pet-friendly paints to help keep your pets safe and healthy.
If you don?t want to look into specialty brands, Behr, Sherwin-Williams, and Benjamin Moore offer low and zero-VOC paints. All of these paints seem to perform just as well as conventional paints, so you don?t have to sacrifice?paint quality. Even better, most of these paints don?t cost very much more than a $30-gallon drum from Home Depot. It?s a win-win!
Toxin-free paint does have fewer harmful fumes than traditional paints. However, the colorant that’s added to it probably doesn?t. When you go to Home Depot to pick out the right shade of lavender for your room, you?ll get a base color and an additive that will change the paint color to your perfect shade of lavender. A lot of times, that additive has those same VOCs that you tried to avoid.
If you want your paint to really live up to your wildest expectations, you need to make sure that everything you use is VOC-free. Don?t spend all that time and energy keeping your home healthy with conscious choices, only to throw it away because you thought the slightly lighter lavender would make the room look bigger. Read the fine print so you know what?s going in your paint and, more importantly, in your home.
Imagine that you’ve just spent three hours painting your walls. Now your home can look good and you can feel good about your hard work. Choosing to be a conscious consumer doesn?t mean sacrificing quality or your wallet. It simply means being mindful about how you spend your money and the impact those purchases have on the people around you and our planet. There are new conscious products being developed every day, whether it?s the paint on your walls or the credit card in your wallet. What other purchases can you make that will make the world a better place?