A regular series from Goodman Property examining environmental sustainability and how New Zealand business is working to get us there.
Today: Fashion and textiles.
The problem: Waste, environmental impact, global warming and climate change. The expert:Bernadette Casey, sustainability consultant and co-founder of Used Fully, a low-carbon clothing system where textiles are used to their full potential.
Fashion & clothing create more emissions than air & ship travel combined.
- The fashion industry is responsible for 10 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions – more than international air and shipping travel combined.
- 80-100 billion items of clothing are made each year – but on average are worn only seven times. That will soon increase to 150 billion items.
- New Zealand sends about 100,000 tonnes of clothing to landfill each year – about 44kg per person.
- Textiles create about three times their weight in CO2 in landfill – so while they make up 5-6 per cent of landfill, they produce about 30 per cent of the carbon impacts.
- The T-shirt you don't wear any more also took two-and-a-half years of drinking water to produce.
- But we don't have a clear plan about what to do.
The government – the country's biggest procurer of textiles and clothing – is moving too slowly to address the carbon impact arising from what Kiwis wear.
That's the contention of Deborah Crowe, of textiles-focused sustainability consultancy Formary and Used Fully's Casey, who say the government is not addressing the environmental aspects of clothing – and do not yet have a plan to.
Casey says the government's procurement of textiles and clothing means it is the biggest in New Zealand: "So, yes, we have the fashion industry, the domestic fashion in clothing but we also have all the sheets and the towels and the linen that we buy.
"Then we have our commercial textiles which are all the hotels and their sheets and their towels. Then we have Government procurement which is all the police uniforms, all the PPE, the DHB sheets, the DHB towels, military, prisons and so on.
"So fashion, in terms of the impacts of the textile sector, is only a portion of the whole industry and not responsible for all of it."
Crowe says the impact of textiles is "one of our biggest issues when it comes to carbon emissions and water utilisation and draws on virgin resources. Polyester, acrylics, nylons are all petroleum-based products so…you begin to realise that there's a lot of things we really need to take a good, hard look at.
"Textiles are basically the biggest contributor to our carbon emissions, after our food waste – it's more than our global shipping and aviation industry combined. There's really some low-hanging fruit here that we can do things about. The majority of people and majority of organisations are simply not aware of the impact of textiles."
That, says Crowe, includes the government: "We've found in our research that maybe two thirds of our textiles is actually from corporate uniforms, hotel linens and hospital linens – so there's a lot of emphasis on our fashion clothing, which are these complex blends.
"They definitely are an issue and are getting a lot of attention. What's not getting enough attention is the impact of our corporate, government and council purchasing and the use of our hotels, rest homes, DHBs, that sort of thing. We've found that's where we're beginning to focus a lot of our energy and effort – to help businesses understand they can really make a significant difference.
"We might be a sustainability consultancy but we're really more in the business of hope and potential."
Both women say New Zealand is lagging behind Europe when it comes to fashion and clothing sustainability. Europe has already mandated a ban on textiles to landfill, coming into force in 2025 to allow industry to set up systems, processes and funding.
"In terms of high impact industries, you've got the energy sector which is oil, transport, everything around energy; you've got the agriculture sector and then you've got the textile sector – so it's a big three," says Casey. "Europe's got this ban from 2025 but, in New Zealand, textiles really aren't on the radar, unfortunately.
Crowe says: "Unfortunately, in New Zealand our government has been slow to realise that this is really a problem and it's simply not amongst their priorities.
"The type of infrastructure support that's needed, well, people are really only beginning to wrap their heads around it…that kind of infrastructure requires funding. At the moment, we're working with government, with councils on how to get these things up and running and they are slowly getting there – but it's taking a lot longer than we would like."
Meanwhile, Meredith Dawson-Laurie, sustainability lead for ground-breaking sustainable fashion brand Icebreaker, says there are steps individuals can take which will make a difference to our clothing carbon.
Consumers should understand if they are buying from brands that have sustainable practices. She also recommends taking greater care of clothing, including not washing them so much: "There's a lot of data now around how we over wash our clothes – we wear them once and it might not even be a full day and people are throwing things in the washing machine.
"Every time we wash garments, we use a lot of energy, a lot of water. All garments shed microfibres and our garments are shedding natural microfibres but when we wash synthetic garments, they're actually shedding microplastics."
The production volume within the apparel industry has just grown hugely in the last couple of decades, she says, and about 60% of it plastic-based clothing: "At the end of the day, synthetic fabrics are so much cheaper to produce and, in turn, they don't get valued as much.
"I think as consumers, the best thing that we can do is try and value our clothing more...have higher expectations of how much we expect to wear that clothing, how long we want it to last for. If we value our clothing more, we actually will want to keep them for longer, we'll be more motivated to treasure them, repair them if they get damaged or pass them on to somebody else if we don't need them any longer."
Footprint: Business Sustainability is a new podcast series from Newstalk ZB and Goodman Property. Episode 5: Fashion and Textiles.