Sustainability in the fashion industry

What’s the problem?

Second to oil, the fashion and textiles industry is one of the world’s most polluting industries, responsible on a global level for 20% of wastewater and almost 10% of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. At every stage of your new jumper’s life it threatens our planet and resources. It’s no mystery that that the garments we wear are having a major impact on the environment.

A recent survey by Changing Markets Foundation evaluated the UK public’s attitude to sustainable fashion. This showed some impactful results, demonstrated below.


think clothing brands should be responsible for their garment production line


feel informed about the impacts of clothing and manufacturing on the environment and people


would be put off buying from a brand associated with pollution in its manufacturing

This is evidence that there is a growing demand from customers for companies to act in the best interests of the planet. They want brands to become economically, socially and environmentally sustainable to ensure future generations’ resources and lifestyles are not compromised.

What’s progressing?

The Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) is developing guidance specific to apparel and footwear, and companies like Levi’s, Kering and Asics already have their targets approved. Setting targets in line with keeping warming well-below 2 degrees will keep emissions in check throughout the production chain, sale and disposal of their respective goods. Emissions from the fashion industry have been projected to increase by another 50% by 2030 so these targets are sorely needed.

2018 was a record year for fashion brands and retailers, as they used a million metric tonnes of sustainably certified cotton says the Better Cotton Initiative. This hope for change is reflected by the UN launch of an alliance of eight member organisations to help shape future UN initiatives to move the fashion industry in the right direction. The UN hopes these will encourage more ambitious action and make a change in consumer behaviour.

The fashion industry itself is also listening. In January 2019, the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) published a guide and toolkit to help companies become more sustainable throughout the entire production process, from innovation and beyond customer purchasing. A report, published by the Global Fashion Agenda and Boston Consulting Group, highlighted the many benefits sustainability has to companies and in particular boosting profitability. Becoming resource efficient to lower input costs and making work environments more secure are among the top reasons. This also ensures risk management for the company and improves their environmental and social performance.

What can you do?

As a business:

It is essential for a company to understand its full impacts to focus efforts on its carbon hotspots. Our client Ted Baker reports to the CDP and as part of their response, they have calculated their value chain (Scope 3) emissions. This analysis identified that over 95% of its impact is not in its stores and offices but comes indirectly through suppliers. Ted Baker is already putting emphasis on improving the sustainability of its products through actions taken as members of the Sustainable Clothing Action Plan (SCAP) and BCI. However by looking at its full Scope 1, 2 and 3 footprint, Ted Baker can formulate its climate strategy in a holistic manner to encompass the whole business, looking at own operations and supply chain.

Figure 1 The Science-Based Targets initiative has mapped the entire lifecycle of fashion production.

A key part of any climate strategy should be to align your emission reductions with climate science. Setting a science-based target to align yourself to 1.5°C warming will allow you to do this; we helped Tesco to set their target to become a zero carbon business by 2050.

As an individual:

Find ways to make your relationship with clothing more sustainable. Take care of your clothes by washing at cooler temperatures and air-drying. Stop to think if you really need to buy that new top. It probably looks quite a lot like one you have any way! If you do feel you need something new, consider where the garments are coming from. How transparent are the production lines and what fabrics are used? The app Good on You takes away some of the leg work by rating different brands on their ethics.

Finally, use your creativity to upcycle old clothes, or find a new purpose for ones that no longer interest you. Take it a step further and do your best to shop local and second hand. You can buy and sell clothes on many platforms, including Vinted or Depop.

Contact us

For guidance on how you company can join the mission to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, contact us on