the world becomes increasingly aware of the threat posed by climate change, greater attention has been turned to the items we buy and their effect on the environment. The “sustainable” label on products can be misleading, however, and when one looks into a self-proclaimed “green” company, it becomes apparent that their activities are anything but environmentally friendly. This highlights the need to verify that the products you’re buying produce a minimal environmental impact and contribute to a greener, more sustainable world.
While most attention may be directed at the social and environmental impacts resulting from the physical production of a product, an item can produce ecological damage from the moment that its raw materials are extracted to years after it is thrown away, when it completely decomposes. Therefore, it is important to understand what our clothing is made of, where it comes from, how it’s produced, and how it gets to us.
The first method of measuring an article of clothing’s impact on the environment is conducting one’s own research on the production and distribution process. This requires a significant amount of work and dedication on the part of the researcher, but doing so can help you understand the full lifecycle of a product and the importance of shopping sustainably. Taking a deep dive into the production of clothing requires you to first look at the materials it’s made with, which can be found on the tag. If you can, you should refrain from buying an item produced with more ecologically-damaging fabrics such as polyester, rayon, nylon, and acrylic, in favor of one made out of more sustainable fabrics such as organic cotton, linen, and hemp, as well as rPET (recycled polyester), and econyl.
It’s also crucial to understand the impact made by turning fabric into an item of clothing. To do so, you should examine both the type and quantity of inputs (particularly energy and water) used in production facilities in addition to the level of atmospheric emissions and other forms of waste produced by a clothing factory.
Looking at the initial site of production in relation to where you bought the clothing can also allow you to estimate the distance it has traveled. Clothing that is produced locally is the most sustainable, as it uses less fuel and emits less carbon dioxide during transportation.
Another means for determining whether an item of clothing is sustainable is to look for a “green” certification, including a Fair Trade Certified™ label. You can also search for a positive rating given by the Higg Index, the Baptist World Aid Australia Ethical Fashion Report, or Good On You. These organizations score companies based on their social and environmental impacts and give consumers a general look at the sustainability of different clothing brands.