The Fashion Industry's Environmental and Social Impact

By Emy Li

The climate crisis has grown even more severe as human activity from manufacturing to transportation continues to send greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, resulting in serious effects on natural ecosystems and human communities alike. The fashion industry certainly releases no shortage of greenhouse gases. According to the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), the fashion industry contributes roughly 10 percent of global carbon emissions. The industry, particularly its supply chains and its habits of “fast fashion,” also produces 20 percent of global waste water. On top of that, here are a few more statistics that highlight just a portion of the fashion industry’s impact on the environment: 

- Approximately 20-35 percent of all microplastics—non-biodegradable plastics— polluting the world’s oceans are from synthetic clothing.

- The annual amount of greenhouse gas emissions produced as a result of textile production, around 1.2 billion tonnes each year, are greater than that of international flights and maritime transport combined. 

- Projections indicate that the fashion industry could take over 35 percent more land by 2030 for fiber production. 

In addition, businesses known for “fast fashion” have taken advantage of workers in countries such as India and Indonesia. According to the non-profit Remake, roughly 80 percent of apparel is made by young women from ages 18 to 24. Further, such women are often made to work under harsh conditions while making little. In Bangladesh, for instance, garment workers make around just $96 per month, according to the World Resources Institute. 

With the fashion industry’s effect on both the environment and human communities, it has therefore become increasingly important to support sustainable fashion, for both environmental and social reasons. It becomes each of our responsibilities to make sure we are looking more closely into where we are getting our clothing. In order to move away from the practice of “fast fashion,” it is also key that we focus more attention on making sure our clothing lasts longer, whether that be through wearing that shirt through more washes or diving into secondhand fashion. 

You can also visit this link for more information on the impacts of the fashion industry.

Emy Li is a freshman at USC studying Applied and Computational Mathematics. She is passionate about the intersection of technology and sustainability. She is eager to dive into the green innovation space while also being sure to live each day as sustainably as possible.

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