Fast-Fashion Culture And The Climate Crisis


The world’s fashion sector contributes significantly to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and wastewater generation due to the resource-intensive nature of the cloth production process.

The industry accounts for nearly 20% of the global wastewater generation and 10% of the GHG emissions from human activity. Both production and consumption have to be regulated to tackle the environmental impacts of the fashion industry.

Fast-Fashion And Consumer Ethics

Fast fashion culture is typical of the consumerist world in which we live. Trends change daily, and people are on the run to keep with the pace. But are there enough people (or enough time for that matter) to wear all the clothes purchased in the global market?

Studies by the World Bank show that people are content with keeping the purchased clothes in their wardrobes in some countries. Around 40% of the dresses are never used. And it is not hard for any of us to guess the names of those countries.

Additionally, the average number of times a dress is worn is undergoing a steep decrease in developed countries. And a pair of jeans requires more than 75,000 litres of water during its production.

In a frantically racing world, using and throwing clothes without maximum utilization to keep up with the changing trends is not ethically responsible behaviour to prevent a climate catastrophe.


Now let’s come to the production side.

The complex value chain of the production process results in the utilization of large amounts of water (due to the use of water-intensive crops are raw materials) and the generation of large quantities of waste (read: contaminated) water.

Untreated water from the fashion industry is a significant contributor to water pollution. The chemicals involved in the manufacturing process also contribute to soil and air pollution.

The manufacturing and transportation side of the process results in massive greenhouse gas emissions. The energy requirement is sustained with fossil fuels, and this adds to the planet’s warming.

Also, the reliance on synthetic fibres produced from petroleum products causes ecological imbalance. Consider the fact that the production of polyester requires 70 million oil barrels each year. In addition to increasing the pressure on the world’s oil resources, they take more than 200 years to decompose.

The resource-intensive and polluting nature of the production process demands a significant reduction in production itself.

Paris Agreement And The Ipcc Report

The industry had faced severe backlash from climate change activists before, which led to many luxury fashion brands expressing their commitment to the Paris Agreement’s goals.

Major fashion brands convened under the UN leadership in 2018 to form the Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action. The charter envisioned achieving net zero emissions by 2050.

But a ‘Fossil Free Fashion Scorecard’ Report published by an environmental activist group Stand. Earth in 2021 shows that significant brands fare poorly in terms of the sustainability of their production processes. Brands like Zara, Prada etc., failed to substitute fossil fuels with renewable energy during production and transportation.

The recent climate report published by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has made it clear that shallow promises like these will not do.

The Paris Agreement (2015) aims to limit temperature change to 1.5 degrees Celsius compared to the pre-industrial levels. And the world can meet this target only if both production and consumption are regulated.

And to reduce consumption levels, awareness-raising campaigns should be conducted among civil societies of the developed countries to encourage people to re-use and recycle the clothes they already own.

This awareness is necessary since having ten extra clothes in the wardrobe will not protect anyone from climate change disasters like the forest fires that raged through the US and elsewhere.

Indeed, climate disasters are “a code red for humanity.”

Seba Fathima
Seba Fathima
I am a student pursuing BA Hons English at Miranda House.



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