Sustainable fashion is part of a larger growing trend of creating more environment-friendly and ethical products. Whilst there is a lack of consensus on the definition of ‘sustainable fashion’, issues such as environmental sourcing and manufacturing of materials, reduction of carbon footprint, and safety of consumers and workers, remain equally important. Thus, all efforts to make fashion more sustainable aim towards "products that benefit both people and the planet".

In recent years, the textile production and consumption have risen drastically across the World. Consumers in Europe and especially in the Nordic countries are purchasing fashion well beyond the world average. For example, the textile consumption in Sweden increased by 40% during the last 10 years and now amounts to 15 kg per capita per year. Most used textiles end up in either the back of the wardrobe, or in an incinerator, while only a small fraction is reused and recycled.

Yearly, an estimate of 145,000 tons of textiles is finding its way to incineration facilities or landfills in Sweden, Denmark and Finland, which is equivalent to half the amount of textiles that are placed on the market annually. These high consumption and disposal levels are not only highlighting the waste management problems, but also continue to put further pressure on environmental, social and economic hot spots along the textile life cycle.

THE TEXTILE LIFE-CYCLE

The best way to ensure development of sustainable products is to look at a product’s environmental impact in the entire life-cycle - and take action where the environmental pressures are greatest. Therefore, environmental supply chain management means engaging with suppliers by applying a precautionary approach, promoting greater environmental responsibility and by using clean technologies. It is not only about environmental legal compliance, but also about strategic and continuous environmental improvements in the supply chain. Businesses must go beyond mere compliance in order to facilitate green growth – for their own, society’s and the planet’s sake.

Working with environmental supply chain management can not only improve the company’s environmental impact, but also provide a number of business advantages and possibilities such as:

- Improved business and public image
- Reduced risk of legal non-compliance
- Attraction of environmentally aware customers
- Improved productivity, efficiencies and improved quality
- Reduced number of defaults
- Improved environmental management
- A way to differentiate from competitors through more sustainable products

Improving environmental performance in the supply chain is an ongoing process. A good starting point is dialogue and collaboration with suppliers and sub-suppliers on continuous improvements of the environmental performance of products and services. Moreover, on selected issues, it can be an advantage to co-operate with local or international stakeholders.

Supply chain management (SCM) is characterized by observing, controlling, optimising and developing the flow of goods, services, money, and information both internally and between business units including suppliers, manufacturers, and customers. The ultimate goal of SCM is to meet customers’ demand more efficiently by providing the right product, in the right quantity, at the right location, at the right time, and in the right condition. As the figure below shows, SCM has four major goals: 1) waste reduction: 2) time compression; 3) flexible response; and 4) unit cost reduction.



ENVIRONMENTAL ASPECTS IN THE SUPPLY CHAIN OF THE FASHION INDUSTRY

The emergence in the 1990s of so-called ‘fast fashion’ resulted in the need for quick turnaround by manufacturers who were expected to produce regular but low-cost collections, hooking consumers on cheap goods. The prices squeezed producers, leading to unsustainable design and markets were flooded with low-quality and disposable clothing. The knock on effect of this has been that the quantity of textiles discarded into landfills has risen drastically in recent years.

In addition to this excess textile waste, the fashion industry makes extensive use of water, energy and raw materials throughout the garment supply chain. At the same time, the Chinese textile industry has evolved in a way that is highly polluting, with little enforcement of even lax standards. China has become the producer to the world and in return has absorbed much of the world’s pollution.

In conventional production, there is a heavy chemical load, both in creating the raw materials and in the manufacturing of garments. Adding to this, the actual use phase of a garment’s lifecycle, during which it is worn and re-washed, is often classified as having a significant environmental impact through washing, drying and ironing.

Part of the problem is that in today’s complex global supply chains, where clothing is produced worldwide, the consumer has become further and further removed from producers and the origin of products. Consumers do not see the pollution caused by their fast fashion habits.

Despite the textile and fashion industry’s challenges, fashion can become more sustainable and people involved in the apparel supply chain can benefit. But in order to create an environmentally sustainable fashion industry we need to rethink the way we design, produce, consume and dispose of fashion – we need to redress fashion, so to speak. The solution to the problem lies in understanding the real costs of producing fashion.

FUTURE PERSPECTIVES FOR THE FASHION CUSTOMER

Why is it that businesses should not account for and ultimately pay for the cost to nature of doing business? These costs do not currently hit the businesses’ financial bottom line, but could easily do so in the future, caused by new government policy, environmental activism, consumer demand, growing scarcity of raw materials, or as a direct consequence of escalating environmental degradation.

The consumers hold part of the responsibility and can do some things to help in the transition process: buy organic, demand a minimization of the use of pesticides, buy natural instead of synthetic (petroleum based) fabrics, and avoid fabrics that have been chemically processed.
The consumers can also facility sharing and trading clothes with friends, shop in second hand stores, donate or recycle unused items, and buy washing detergents that are more environmentally friendly.

We all have options for helping the fashion industry in its quest for sustainability. As a supplier, global compact stresses the need to address sound working conditions and occupational health standards. As a manufacturer, many low hanging fruits are ready to be harvested in order to reduce the environmental impact of the product, and as consumers, it is possible to demand more responsible textiles through our buying patterns.