fashion is dirty business

Join the Discussion on Social & Environmental Impacts of Fashion – Fri 29 May, 7 to 9pm

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Is there “Clean” Fashion? Check out 2 articles from Quartz news on fashion and the environment:

These Chinese Textile mills are going green – and saving millions

“Fashion is a dirty business, and the process of dyeing and finishing textiles is a particularly filthy part of it. It uses a lot of energy and water, as well as toxic chemicals with disturbing side effects such as causing hormone imbalances in wildlife. These chemicals can easily end up in a mill’s wastewater, contaminating nearby lakes and rivers.

 Clean by Design, is a program launched by the Natural Resources Defense Council to get Chinese textile mills to clean up their practices.

According to a new report by the organization, which details the projects and results at each mill, the mills not only reduced their environmental footprints, they fattened their bank accounts as well.

On average, each mill cut its water use by 9%, electricity use by 4%, and coal use by 6.5% through relatively simple fixes such as improving insulation and boiler efficiency, routinely measuring water and electricity consumption, reusing resources, and capturing heat discharged by hot water—what Linda Greer, director of NRDC’s health and environment programs, calls “the low-hanging fruit.” The savings added up across the mills. NRDC estimates they saved 3 million tons of water, 36 million kilowatt-hours of electricity, 400 tons of chemicals, and 61,000 tons of coal.

The mills saved a total of $14.7 million, and the mill with the single highest gains saved $3.5 million, according to the NRDC’s figures. It projects that the five-year savings for the mills will be $56 million.

Greer admits there’s a significant problem that the program can’t easily fix: the use of hazardous chemicals. When the mills dye fabrics, their business depends on getting the colors right for their clothing label clients—which is why they’re reluctant to change their practices.

The program also doesn’t address a fundamental problem: the sheer amount of textiles it takes to create the massive volume of clothing the mills produce. Responsibility for that falls on the retailers placing the clothing orders, and it’s one of the biggest issues fashion faces where sustainability is concerned.

Still, cutting back on the use of water and energy, particularly carbon-emitting coal, is worthwhile, and if China’s textile mills realize that going green can also be financially beneficial, it’s a win for everyone.”


H&M’s 2014 sustainability report hides unsustainability of fast fashion

Linda Greer, director of the health program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, has worked with H&M on cleaning up one of the dirtiest pieces of the manufacturing process: the chemical-intensive process of textile dyeing and finishing. She applauds H&M’s efforts, including making its supply chain more transparent and moving toward “circular” manufacturing, which emphasizes recycling clothes and reusing resources. (H&M has a garment recycling program that some identify as a “green marketing” tactic and 0.2% of H&M’s textiles are recycled.)

Still, she admits there is some incongruity between its goals and its practices. “Fundamentally, there is a disconnect between the idea that you are selling a tremendous amount of clothing in fast fashion and that you are trying to be a sustainable company,” she says.



Spinning Our Endangered Forests into Cheap Clothing

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If you have rayon, lyocell / TENCEL®, Modal® and Viscose® in your clothing, you are wearing fabrics that have been spun out of cellulose from trees. Converting wood into dissolving pulp from which soft fibers is associated with toxic chemicals (e.g. sodium hydroxide, sulfuric acid), the use of massive amounts of water, land grabbing and human right abuses.

Add to that the destruction of forests: 70,000,000 – 100,000,000  trees are logged annually for fabrics – approximately one-third of which are from ancient and endangered forests [1].


“Pristine natural forests are being destroyed for monocrop plantations that are being made into fabric, impacting communities that have depended on those forests for generations,” RAN’s Brihannala Morgan told “It’s destroying their livelihoods, polluting their rivers, poisoning their land. And all in the name of cheap clothing, which is something we need to take responsibility for.” (From:

In response to the growth in the dissolving pulp market, campaigns for forest friendly clothing have been launched in the last 2 years,  the Fashion Loved by Forest initiative (by Canopy)  and very recently, the Out of Fashion campaign (by the Rainforest Action Network). Check out these campaigns to find out which companies are being socially and environmentally responsible and what else you can do.



1. The Canopy report is available here.