Water and fashion. About hard choices and easy decisions

Woda i moda

Can fashion be responsible for water? Of course it does. As much as one-fifth of the world’s industrial wastewater discharge comes from apparel manufacturing. A common practice is that they end up in rivers without any treatment. It is not only the garment manufacturers that are responsible, but also the unwillingness to enforce the law in countries such as China and Bangladesh. Colorful, disgusting and carcinogenic streams flow for hundreds of kilometers, destroying life in and out of rivers, while people suffer from lack of access to clean drinking water. This is what the social responsibility of the global fashion business looks like today. Will the water crisis and investment risk change anything?

You’ve got to be kidding, after all, there is a promotion,” comments the teenager, poking her friend, who can’t decide whether to buy one or two T-shirts. – See, you get two for the price of one. That one tries to resist: But I don’t need two. Besides, I came for the pants. This dialogue of female representatives of Generation Z is not unique, it is ordinary. How many times, looking at promotional prices, have we been tempted to buy something we didn’t need.

I have to admit that despite my awareness of pervasive consumerism and the impact of industrial processes on natural ecosystems, I stopped for a long while at the problem of fashion and water only now. I immediately asked myself why. The answer is simple – closer to the body the shirt. After all, Poland is not a fashion basin. However, in this case, a broader view of the problem is essential – facing the consequences of climate change, drought or the migration of the south of the globe to the north, already gives a fuller picture, not very fashionable and less colorful.

Wodne Sprawy 4 2024 1
pic. depositphotos/pierivb

Colorful closet – colorful river

The passing autumn-winter season was reportedly not surprising. Fashion magazines indicated as desirable shades of beige – from cold to warm, sandy colors. Spring 2024 is expected to bring a fashion for slightly bolder colors – red, pink, caramel. Unfortunately, a sizable number of people follow just such guidelines, to which are added guidelines for cuts and accessories. If I don’t have something, I’ll buy it. What we have in our closet is usually thrown away (about 92 million tons of clothes in the world every year), less often sold or recycled.

Unfortunately, most of the clothing we buy is so-called. fast fashion. My definition, after reading a number of publications about the scale of this phenomenon, is: produce as cheaply as possible, sell as much as possible, poison – no matter who or what. Climate reports state that the garment industry is responsible for 10 percent of Global greenhouse gas emissions and 20 percent. global water pollution.

Report Quantis International reports that there are three main factors that affect resources: dyeing and finishing clothes – 36 percent, yarn preparation – 28 percent, and fiber production 15 percent. Without expert knowledge, one can imagine that every fashion season means new collections and colors, and thus new pigments, dyes and chemicals discharged into rivers. It’s true that watercourses have the ability to self-purify, but in that case we’re no longer talking about a river, but rather a channel in which sewage flows.

Business is booming, environment not necessarily

In fast fashion, high demand means high profit. Business is booming, as are the polluted rivers flowing with color. About 80 billion garments are sold in the world every year, which means about 10 pieces for each of us. Not to mention the garments that were produced and not sold. On the one hand, it seems obvious that an economy that defines success by rapid growth sees no need to promote the slow fashion trend and reduce resource consumption; on the other hand, it wants to show its pro-environmental side, so we are fed with fashion CSR reports, which, it is worth adding, are voluntary and not subject to any verification at the moment.

Given the undeniable damage that fashion corporations are doing to the environment, it is not surprising that they are defending access to hard data on water consumption and wastewater discharge. Many times they are scored by activists and NGOs for tattling or, more nicely, not disclosing facts. For this reason, fast-fashion consumers are also not fully aware of the impact of their choices on water, the environment and the climate.

As Greenpeace points out in one of its publications, some of the most common offenses of fashion brands include:

  • Misleading labeling for customers, including fake certificates;
  • No information on the full production chain;
  • Lack of complete information on resource consumption in CRS reports;
  • No attempt to stop the growth of mass production;
  • misleading information about the closed-loop manufacturing process regarding the use of recycled polyester from plastic bottles;
  • Overuse of terms about responsibility and sustainable production in communications to consumers;
  • Promotion of non-recyclable fabrics;
  • relying on discredited measurement tools to describe the environmental impact of materials used in a product;
  • informing consumers that changes have been made to the production process, but taking place on a small scale, and the modification requires the entire process.
Wodne Sprawy 4 2024 2
pic. depositphotos/kasto

Investors’ response to the water crisis

The water-intensity of the fashion industry is huge, with nearly 80 billioncubic meters of water abstracted annually, placing it second only to other industries in the world. These numbers are frightening, especially if we look at the water footprint of individual products, for example: one T-shirt – 2.7 thousand. l; a pair of jeans – 10 thousand. l. Are strategic fashion investors responding to the worsening water crisis? Does the word sustainable mean anything to the apparel industry? With the answer to this question comes the results of the latest Planet Tracker report Exposing water risk , which was released in January of this year.

The authors analyzed as many as 3,900. documents, which published 29 of the world’s leading fashion brands, including well-known in Poland: Adidas, H&M, Nike, Zalando, GAP or Victoria’s Secret. The aim of the report was to examine how they manage water risks. The conclusion is quite depressing – as much as 90 percent. documents analyzed, i.e. annual reports, sustainability reports or investor meeting transcripts, mentioned nothing about such risks. Undoubtedly, this demonstrates a significant gap in the fashion giants’ disclosure practices. However, mention should also be made of those in the minority, noting the risks associated with water. In the period from 2018. By 2022. mentions of these threats appeared more frequently there was an increase from 2,000. Up to 9,000.

In many parts of the world, water availability is increasingly under threat due to climate change, inefficient use and untreated disposal. This could threaten textile production in key regions, disrupting supply chains – Richard Wielechowski of Planet Tracker warns.

Failure to disclose information about water risks exposes both investors and financial institutions to erroneous decisions based on incomplete data. The report’s authors call for water risk to be factored into investment decisions, urging financial institutions to consider its potential impact on supply chains and retail prices.

Following fashion or following water?

Reviewing the dates of publications on the environmental impact of the fashion industry, I get the impression that they come out in waves. Such sinuosity does not serve water conservation – the topic should be addressed regularly, as if we wanted to swim in a relay race. Passed from editorial to editorial, from discussion to discussion, from action to action, to maintain continuous interest and induce thoughtfulness in consumer choices.

A simple answer that came to me on its own in response to the question: what can I do? If I am faced with a difficult choice, I should make an easy decision – I don’t buy, I protect water and the lives of hundreds of thousands of people.

As I was finishing writing this article, I received a text message that read: Welcome to the -50 percent sale on the entire JZ’23 collection…. I deleted it, having not read to the end.

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