Is fashion 8% of global carbon emissions?
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Dec 31
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Fashion week special. I don't believe this is true but multiple news articles say it is. https://www.fastcompany.com/90949103/the-new-trend-at-fashion-week-is-old-clothes

I don't count the delivery of fashion clothes in this (that would be in transportation). I will just look into the production and waste emissions.

This resolves to no only if the emissions in 2022 from fashion is "significantly" less than 8%.

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@tftftftftftftftftftftftf Did you reach a conclusion?

Worried this may be difficult to resolve because, like most sectors, emission estimations can wildly differ based on definition - i.e. what are the boundary conditions of 'fashion' and how much of scope 2 and scope 3 emissions are considered into the estimate (indirect emissions). Some amount of indirect (e.g. energy usage) emissions can be fair game to consider, but the fabric companies likely don't have much a say if coal power, nuclear, or Solar is being used to generate primary electricity / heating.

bought Ṁ50 of YES

According to many different articles, the fashion industry produces about 8% to 10% of global carbon emissions. Now, while the fashion industry has tried to make efforts to become more sustainable and shift to low carbon emissions, however the efforts have not been met. As you can see from the image below, the fashion industry is actually set to “significantly exceed the 1.5-degree Celsius global warming target by 50%.”

In addition to this, the fashion industry’s harmful greenhouse gases are projected to grow, instead of decrease. Even with the work in sustainability, the fashion industry is not on track to reduce their global carbon emissions anytime soon, especially when most companies just claim to be sustainable in order to be politically correct, instead of trying to make actual changes within the industry.

References:

https://www.zurich.com/en/media/magazine/2021/fast-fashion-5-practical-ways-to-cut-the-carbon-from-your-closet#:~:text=It%20may%20surprise%20you%20to,shipping%20and%20international%20flights%20combined.

https://www.worldbank.org/en/news/feature/2019/09/23/costo-moda-medio-ambiente

https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/retail/our-insights/fashion-on-climate

https://www.reuters.com/sustainability/climate-energy/despite-climate-pledges-fashion-brands-way-off-track-cutting-carbon-catwalk-2023-07-31/

https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20200310-sustainable-fashion-how-to-buy-clothes-good-for-the-climate

https://unfccc.int/news/un-helps-fashion-industry-shift-to-low-carbon

bought Ṁ10 of YES

Yes, within Fashion there's a lot of aspects that within such as the manufacturing clothes, child labor, the fabrics, delivery transportation. We are consisting of 8 billion closes to 9 billion people in this world. Within fabrics alone, considering the fact that there's different types of fabric such as cotton, silk, polyester, etc.

Sources: Is fashion bad for the environment? | World Economic Forum (weforum.org)

I looked through the McKinsey report that @evergreenemily linked, and will try to summarize the broad justification for the 4% figure they find. This won't help answer your question (Emily's answer is best: We can't be as precise as "X%", and also you've excluded delivery and washing, which are part of these numbers) but maybe helps get an intuition for the order of magnitude?

  • 40% of "fashion footprint" is making cotton/polyester/etc. Cotton alone uses 2.5% of agricultural land (could have been forests) and 4% of all fertilizer (some N₂0 doesn't stay in the ground, it is a greenhouse gas).

  • 30% is textile production. Think of factories in China using coal power to move large amounts of water or run big spinning machines. This is the step I have least of an intuition for.

  • 20% is emissions from powering washer-dryers ("use phase"). A household might use 5% of their energy for the washer-dryer, so this phase is in line with the 4% header figure.

  • The rest is cutting, sewing, transport, high street stores, and recycling.

https://www.soilassociation.org/media/11662/coolcotton.pdf

@fwbt Thanks so much for looking into this. The cotton makes sense, and the polyester as well. I had not considered washer/dryers. I think the thing I am struggling most with is comparing this to the huge amount of other consumer products and the transportation industry. It just seems so wrong to be 8%. My intuition must be missing something here.

@tftftftftftftftftftftftfx I personally find the 4% number more likely but 8% wouldn't blow my mind. Another perspective is "emissions factor" ie how much does an industry emit per dollar? If we take Evan's estimate of 2% of GDP, I would expect fashion to emit more per dollar than average, since they take cotton (a high emission crop) and process it heavily, and then we wash it a bunch, where I'd expect entertainment, medicine, etc to emit less per dollar on average. So I'd expect a multiple of 2%. Is 4x plausible? Factors can vary a lot since we have not properly priced emissions- so paying an airline to burn jet fuel generates orders of magnitude more carbon per dollar than paying someone to build you a log cabin (from a properly managed forest). It's plausible to me that combining a difficult crop (not a cereal or a tree) with heavy processing (most of the value is in the textile, unlike phones etc where it's in the silicon, design, and assembly) to produce items with a limited lifetime (unlike furniture, kitchen goods, etc) is a recipe for a 4x factor. But it would slightly surprise me. Going forward, I expect it will go down as China reduces coal use and consumers buy more organic cotton and recycled polyester. Thanks for the interesting question anyway, I should go do my job now...

predicts NO

@fwbt That’s one of the most interesting things I’ve read here in a while.

bought Ṁ25 of NO

Why are these numbers that have it as high as several percent so different than the OWID chart?

I assume it's a different sectioning of the data. Presumably fashion industry emissions get counted as a mix of chemical industry, energy use in chemical industry, agricultural soils, and cropland. But still, 8% seems extremely high. "Clothing and footwear" accounts for ~ 2% of world GDP (quick checks and rough math); perhaps "fashion" is a relatively high impact per dollar industry?

Are we interpreting "fashion" to include all clothing and footwear? Or is it a narrower category?

@EvanDaniel Fair to say all clothing footwear, bags, maybe jewelry?

predicts NO

@tftftftftftftftftftftftf I guess a big part of what feels very weird about this market is basically the giant and disingenuous shift in the original article. Start of paragraph is this:

For decades, the fashion industry has seen September as a chance to cultivate a desire for newness. At fashion weeks around the world, designers create new collections, signaling the colors and silhouettes that are now in vogue—prompting fashionable consumers to freshen up their wardrobe with new styles.

And then it continues with the 8% of carbon emissions stat. But nowhere does it point out that it's counting "I bought some new Wrangler jeans and Fruit of the Loom underwear at WalMart" as "fashion". It's trying to conflate a giant pile of GDP and carbon emissions with a much narrower industry.

It's an awful article because of that. And this market, when I first read it, sounded to me like it was trying to answer the question "is this article awful and wrong" in an intuitive way, but actually I misunderstood on first reading exactly what was wrong with the article. The 8% stat might or might not be wrong, but it's not horrible, and by itself it isn't what makes the article horrible.

@EvanDaniel I agree the article is bad, but the 8% stat is floating around (see other comments) and that is the thing that really doesn’t seem right to me

bought Ṁ10 of YES

The UN says "between 2 and 8 percent" as well as "around 10%." Vogue (paywall) has the total at around four percent, and this graph that I stole definitely payed for the paywall to acquire shows that transportation makes up only a small percentage of that:

Climate Feedback rates the claim that “The clothing industry contributes up to 10% of the pollution driving the climate crisis” as "ACCURATE":

Globally, the fashion industry is estimated to contribute 3 - 10% of the greenhouse gas emissions that are causing climate change, based on scientific studies and reports from the United Nations and charities.

And:

Some sources, including the Ellen MacArthur Foundation report and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), estimate the global fashion industry contributes 1.2 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent or 8 to 10 percent of global carbon emissions.

They also quote a climate scientist:

Ten percent is probably at the higher end of estimates, but still has a solid basis in the science. The issue with carbon footprint estimates is that they are very sensitive to different assumptions, methods, and/or data, so a 10% range is probably within an acceptable margin of error.

And another:

The claim [that the fashion contributes] up to 10% [of pollution driving the climate crisis] is not very far from  the United Nations’ research estimate, which is 8%....however, I have no access to the UN environment programme original report to confirm how this number was calculated. There is a more recent claim from our field that was published in a report authored by McKinsey & Company and Global Fashion Agenda, which estimates the fashion industry contributes roughly about 4% of the global emission. From a study that investigated the total emission of fashion and textiles production in China, the figure is even higher...

tl;dr Estimating the carbon emissions of the fashion industry is difficult, with a large margin of error. Most likely, it's around 4-10%, with 8% on the medium-to-high end of that range. The emissions are, most likely, not significantly less than 8% - but exact numbers are very hard to come by, since corporations don't like to be honest about the amount of emissions they're producing.

(edited about 10 minutes after posting to fix a small grammar error)

predicts NO

@evergreenemily I’m not quite sure why but I can never like your comments. Is that a bug or a feature?

@evergreenemily Wow thanks. I am still really skeptical. How could it possibly compare with stuff like transportation and concrete. Is it because so much of clothing is from hydrocarbons?

predicts NO

@tftftftftftftftftftftftf It’s possible that if you add up energy use, chemical/petro-chemical processes, waste, and fugitive emissions produced by the entire textile industry (=fashion?) you get a few digit percentage but based on this breakdown from OWID I’m quite skeptical.

https://ourworldindata.org/emissions-by-sector

predicts YES

@tftftftftftftftftftftftf If I had to guess?

  • Textile farming is resource-intensive and can lead to deforestation. Textile factories are also highly resource-intensive.

  • Polyester (and other synthetic fabrics) contribute emissions via the manufacturing process, much like textile factories do (i.e. they need lots of electricity, and the vast majority of electricity is produced via processes that involve greenhouse emissions.)

  • The recent move towards "fast fashion" has accelerated this, as clothes are designed with planned obsolescence in mind - which means more are being made per person, and they often end up in landfills. After all, if they're made shoddily enough that they fall apart quickly, or if they're suddenly "out of style" as corporations have pitched a Hot New Style that you need to keep up with to be a Good Consumer, then you have to buy more of them, which makes the corporations more profit - and brings with it the side effect of increased emissions.

  • Washer/dryer use contributes a significant amount of emissions because both use a lot of electricity. There's not much we can do about that aside from switching to higher-efficiency washers and getting the electric grid itself decarbonized, though.

bought Ṁ20 of NO

The Reuters article linked to in the linked piece says:

‘This is put at anywhere between 2% and 8% of global emissions, depending on factors such as the energy mix of grids and whether consumers washing and drying their clothes is taken into account.’

It’s not clear what’s included since no source is cited. 8% seems like the upper bound. Will you only resolve YES if it’s at least equal to 8%? According to what source?

@NicoDelon I haven’t looked into it yet. It will be yes if it is not significantly lower than 8%

predicts NO

@tftftftftftftftftftftftf Is 5% significantly lower?

@tftftftftftftftftftftftf 8% - (5% of 8%)

predicts NO

@tftftftftftftftftftftftf 5% is significantly lower