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UN campaigns for sustainable fashion


fast fashion, pollution, UN campaign launch, 2019 UN Environment Assembly,UNCTAD, UNEP, UN Alliance for Sustainable Fashion‘Retailers and consumers will have to reject the “take, make and dispose” model.’

It takes around 7,500 litres of water to make a single pair of jeans, equivalent to the amount of water the average person drinks over a period of seven years.

That’s just one of the many startling facts to emerge from recent environmental research, which show that the cost of staying fashionable is a lot more than just the price tag.

The fashion industry is considered by the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), to be the second most polluting industry in the world.

According to UNCTAD , some 93 billion cubic metres of water – enough to meet the needs of five million people – is used by the fashion industry annually, and around half a million tons of microfibre, which is the equivalent of 3 million barrels of oil, is now being dumped into the ocean every year.

And the industry is responsible for more than all international flights and maritime shipping carbon emissions combined.

The dominant business model in the sector is that of ‘fast fashion’, where consumers are offered constantly changing collections at low prices, and encouraged to frequently buy and discard clothes.

Many experts, including the UN, believe this trend is responsible for a plethora of negative social, economic and environmental impacts.

Clothing production doubled between 2000 and 2014.

In a bid to halt the fashion industry’s environmentally and socially destructive practices, and harness the catwalk as a driver to improve the world’s ecosystems, 10 different United Nations organisations have established the UN Alliance for Sustainable Fashion, which was launched during the 2019 UN Environment Assembly, which took place in Nairobi in March.

Despite the moves being made by some retailers to make the industry less harmful to the environment, it can be argued that, ultimately, the only way to really make fashion sustainable is to end the throwaway culture.

Not only is the average person buying 60 per cent more items of clothing than they did 15 years ago but, according to the McKinsey State of Fashion report for 2019, they are only keeping them as half as long as they used to.

The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) says that promoting a change in consumption modes, through actions such as taking better care of clothes, recycling and “take-back” programs, can make a major impact, and that simply doubling the time that we use each item of clothing could halve the fashion industry’s greenhouse gas emissions.

However, for this to happen, both retailers and consumers will have to reject the “take, make and dispose” model and agree that, for the sake of the planet, when it comes to fashion, less is more.

Elisa Tonda, Head of the Consumption and Production Unit at UNEP, one of the 10 UN bodies involved in the Alliance, explained the urgency behind its formation: “The global production of clothing and footwear generates 8 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions and, with manufacturing concentrated in Asia, the industry is mainly reliant on hard coal and natural gas to generate electricity and heat.

“If we carry on with a business-as-usual approach, the greenhouse gas emissions from the industry are expected to rise by almost 50 per cent by 2030.”

It is crucially important to ensure that clothes are produced as ethically and sustainably as possible.

For more information about the campaign, click here.

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