Fundamentally different production conditions are a prerequisite for sustainability
In 2017, Global Fashion Agenda & The Boston Consulting Group published the report “Pulse of the fashion industry 2017”. The report is based on a common factual database on industry health, and has evaluated the overall potential for sustainability in the fashion industry. On page 8, the report says that if the world’s population increases as expected to 8.5 billion people by 2030, and GDP per capita grows by 2% per year in the developed world and 4% in the developing world, the report’s authors assume that overall clothing consumption will increase by 63%, from 62 million tonnes today to 102 million tonnes by 2030, an average of 12 kg of clothing per person.
It’s an interesting calculation. Very mathematical, very linear, seemingly very easy to understand: as the world’s population increases and we all get more money, there will be a need to produce more clothes. Simple and straightforward.
The textile industry is one of the world’s most polluting industries. The textile industry is challenging several of the 9 planetary boundaries that define a safe field within which the earth’s life can evolve. These include the consumption of freshwater, pollution with chemicals and the emission of carbon dioxide. 4 of the planetary boundaries have already been exceeded, the consequences we do not yet know, but there is only reason to have worries when thinking about what the boundaries indicate. The 4 exceeded limits deal with the content of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, a decreasing number of animal and plant species in the wild, pollution with nutrients from agriculture and decreasing forest areas.
One should be aware that the calculation in the report is based on production conditions that do not change fundamentally until 2030. It assumes that nature with its resources of water, soil, minerals and energy sources is free for the taking, simply a commodity. Human labor is also a commodity that is cheaper in Bangladesh, India and Pakistan than in Europe, so the labor-intensive textile productions are placed there.
The report examines the environmental impact of the textile industry in many details. It is disturbing reading, especially in the perspective of 63% expansion. The working conditions in the textile industry are also mentioned in the report. It looks bad. But when the textile industry’s own report admits that it pollutes and brings animals and people’s life and health in jeopardy, and then sets goals for how it should improve, doesn’t this mean that the textile industry has a conscience after all?
There is no reason to think so. For the textile industry, exceeding the planetary boundaries does not pose a problem related to conscience, human fellowship, the diversity of life forms in nature, the survival possibilities of our species, the quality of our lives right now, or the care of the wonderful planet we inhabit. No, for the textile industry it is a question of the profit per produced unit being challenged. The report’s section on planetary boundaries ends as follows:
“ Given that the natural resources of the planet are already burdened, the projected increase in the industry’s environmental footprint will exacerbate the situation. In the worst case, the fashion industry will face distinct restrictions on one or more of its key input factors, leaving it unable to grow at the projected rate and in the long run unable to continue under its current operating model.”