Episode 67: Why switching fibres isn't the answer to the carbon emissions problem




  • Introduction
  • Amplifying Misinformation - The Case of Sustainability Indices in Fashion
  • On carbon emissions
  • Conclusion


Belinda Humphrey - Website

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Belinda Humphrey - Email

Episode 46: Does it really take 20,000 litres of water to make the cotton for a t-shirt and pair of jeans?

Amplifying Misinformation - The Case of Sustainability Indices in Fashion


Welcome to the Fashion Unearthed podcast. If you need help navigating the fashion industry sustainably, you have come to the right place. I'm your host Belinda Humphrey and my hope is to simplify the fashion industry so that businesses can make the best decisions for people, planet and product. 

Hello and welcome to episode 67 of the Fashion Unearthed Podcast. I'm Belinda Humphrey, and if you've been listening for a while or looking up the links in the show notes on the website, you would've seen, there is a little disclaimer in there. It reads, whilst every effort is made to ensure that information is accurate at the time of recording, much like the fashion industry itself, this information may change. And the reason I put that there is because things do change, or sometimes it takes longer to get to the bottom of things, new information comes to light, or sometimes old information finds the light, which is what has prompted the topic for today's episode. 

Before I get into that though, a reminder that I'm taking bookings for sessions in March. Whether that's a ask me anything strategy session or a range review, you can book one-on-one time with me to feel confident about your product decisions. If that's something you're interested in, head to the shop at belindahumphrey.com.

Onto today's topic, I find there is a lot of conversation about what fibre is better, what fabric is better, what is preferred, good, better, best, etc. I get it's nicer to have those conversations with the customer rather than we used to pay our workers poorly now we don't. However, a common theme of misinformation keeps popping up. As an example, I talked about whether it was true that it takes 20,000 litres of water to make a pair of jeans and a t-shirt in episode 46. And if you listen to that, you can see it's not a simple equation. The detail matters and to be able to answer that question as a brand, you need to know a lot of detail about your supply chain. 

But a recent report proposes that the biggest change isn't to be made in switching fibres anyway. It's called Amplifying Misinformation - The Case of Sustainability Indices in Fashion, co-authored by Veronica Kassatly and Dorothée Baumann-Pauly. I hope I'm pronouncing those correctly. It shows that at best an average of 10% of the lifetime climate impact of a garment can be attributed to the fibre production of the raw material phase, which is before the fabric or the garment is made. Therefore, switching fibres here and there is not going to lead to the biggest impact when it comes to emissions. 

It proposes that it's the manufacturing phase, which has the greatest demand for energy with the bulk of carbon emissions being in spinning through to dying, finishing, etc. The report states for climate change, the most important stage is manufacturing, representing roughly 60% of lifetime greenhouse gas emissions and around 80% of production emissions. The report proposes that the simplest and most obvious place to start evaluating brands' sustainability in greenhouse gas emissions would be to rank brands by the relative carbon intensity of the electricity and heat generation of the manufacturing.

Now, if you're in my fortnightly newsletter, you would've seen me write about Nate Hagen's podcast interview with Dumbo Feather, where he discusses energy. When Veronica mentioned a chart showing the carbon intensity of electricity per country, I had to look it up. I'll put a link to it in the show notes on my website too, belindahumphrey.com. But in the chart, it says that carbon intensity is measured in grams of carbon dioxide equivalence, which are omitted per kilowatt hour of electricity. 

When you think about whose electricity is emitting the most carbon, who comes to mind? Well, I plugged in some common manufacturing locations, both in terms of fabric and garments to say the figures for 2021 and India were the highest at 637 grams of CO2 per kilowatt, and not far after that at 623 was Indonesia, Bangladesh at 561, China at 544, and interestingly, Australia at 531 grams. The UK was 270, Italy was 226, the lowest countries being France at 58, and Sweden at 12 grams.

I think this is so important to talk about because if you're listening to this podcast, thank you, but you're obviously interested in making a positive impact. And in terms of carbon emissions, the greatest impact will come from where your manufacturing is taking place. That's not hearsay or someone trying to save your product or a new computing system. These are recommendations coming from a report from someone who has dug into all the available data. I think it's a really great one to spend some time reading.

The report sets out to analyze the business of fashion sustainability index and whether the information there is accurate and helps to achieve a reduction in emissions to meet the Paris Agreement. But there are lots of nuggets of data in there. I don't know Veronica, but her voice in this space where a lot of information is hidden or skewed to suit an agenda is refreshing. Again, I highly recommend reading it as it expands on a lot of common misinformation, and I'll pop a link in the show notes, which you'll find on the website in the podcast section.

I hope that's made you feel confident about where to focus your attention in your supply chain to make the greatest impact. And a reminder that if you're interested in booking a one-on-one session with me for March, you can do that by heading to the shop at belindahumphrey.com. And as I said, you'll find the show notes in any links on the website as well, belindahumphrey.com in the podcast section. Thanks so much for listening. See you next time.

Thanks for listening to the Fashion Unearthed podcast. If you want to get in touch head over to belindahumphrey.com or you can find me on Instagram @belindahumphrey_

Disclaimer: Whilst every effort is made to ensure that information is accurate at the time of recording, much like the fashion industry itself, this information may change.


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