Some are aware of it, others are not, but it is a fact we need to admit: the fashion industry is one of the most polluting industries in the world, including every step in the process.
Until recently, I was one of those who were not aware of it. Polluting? Yes, most certainly, like all industries, but to such an extent? I was far from the truth, from the terrible truth.
The massive footprint of producing fashion
The textile industry is considered as the second most polluting industry in the world with 10% of the world's carbon emissions (!), holding the third place in terms of water and material consumption.
During my internship, I had the opportunity to do further research on this subject, and it is little to say that each figure is even worse than the previous one. Here is a small, non-exhaustive list of the data that I was able to find:
- 1.7 billion tons of CO2 emitted per year
- 93 billion square meters of water used per year
- More than 2 billion tons of waste per year
- 98 million tons of fossil fuels used per year
- 17 to 20% of the world's water pollution
It’s obvious that the fashion industry must take a radical turn. One solution, or at least a major step forward like in many other industries, could lie in promoting the circular economy.
Does renting really reduce the environmental impact of the fashion industry or does it simply shift the problem elsewhere?
To make things even worse, 140 billion garments are produced and 100 billion are sold every year: production is clearly not adapted to consumption. Consumption is also not adapted to need, since a small proportion of clothes in good condition are discarded or no longer used by consumers. Thus, renting clothes appears to be a good solution to reduce the environmental impact of the textile industry.
What about the CO2 emissions due the logistics in rental?
However, renting is usually associated with increased environmental costs of transportation because of the round-trip travel involved in this business model. So, it's easy to think, and I was the first one when I looked into it, does renting really reduce the environmental impact of the fashion industry or does it simply shift the problem elsewhere?
Adding some transportation costs, over shorter distances, to avoid producing more garments is largely beneficial in the long run.
But the answer is clear: the environmental costs of producing and assembling garments are so high that transportation costs are almost negligible in comparison. In figures, transportation accounts for 2% of the total emissions related to the fashion industry, whereas the vast majority of these emissions are caused by air travel. Adding some transportation costs, over shorter distances to avoid producing more garments is largely beneficial in the long run.
The environmental logic behind renting vs selling
The manufacturing of a cotton T-Shirt costs 4.5 kg of CO2 or equivalent, the manufacturing cost of a polyester dress is 45kg. The manufacture of a jean requires the equivalent of 285 showers of water. The transport by plane of a cotton T-shirt from its place of manufacture to its distribution center in Europe amounts to 1kg of CO2 or equivalent, it amounts to 7kg for the dress.
The comparison between selling and renting is clear: as soon as the same garment is used by at least 2 consumers to satisfy their needs, the environmental costs saved on production are monumental, and it is not the transport of the article between the two consumers, passing through a logistic center that will change this overall impact.
Now let's imagine the same item will be rented by 5 or 10 consumers...