London Fashion Week kicks off today. The industry as a whole has come under scrutiny in recent years for its enormous environmental footprint, whether through resource use, pollution or unsustainable materials. But one element that is somewhat overlooked is the impact of the many shows themselves. And there are plenty – while London, Milan, Paris, New York make up the big four, there are many more in other cities, including major trade shows in Copenhagen, Tokyo and Seoul. Not to mention that women’s and men’s clothing often have different collections for the spring/summer season and another for fall/winter, as well as pre-fall and Resort lines.
Carbon Trust & ORDER collected data on the emissions generated by the business trips of designers and buyers who attend fashion weeks and collections in a year. Researchers found that in the 12 months beginning with the 2018 spring/summer season, a total of 241,000 tonnes of carbon emissions were created from air travel, accommodation, intercity travel and transportation of collections by approximately 11,000 individual buyers and 5,000 designers. This is more than the greenhouse gas emissions of Saint Kitts and Nevis in 2017 (238,000 tCO2e), and would be enough to light Times Square in New York for 58 years.
The following graph shows that New York is the city whose fashion weeks had the worst environmental impact in the world, responsible for 60,000 tCO2e this year alone, followed by Paris with 45,000 tCO2e and London with 28,000 tCO2e. The average carbon footprint of a buyer is 12.1 tCO2e while the average footprint of an employed designer is 7.6 tCO2e.
According to the report, these are probably even conservative estimates, given that the research only focused on travel-related shows associated with the commercial aspects of fashion and collections weeks, that is i.e. the journeys of creators and buyers, rather than all other groups such as media and influencers.
This report has already fueled growing global pressure to improve the sustainability of the fashion industry. Although there is still a long way to go, the calls have been heard by many companies. For example, London Fashion Week, June 9-12, is a hybrid of online and real life, while Copenhagen Fashion Week has introduced a number of requirements regarding business practices and materials that designers must respect to be included in the parade.
The report writers recommend several measures to improve the emissions generated in the coming years, including avoiding travel in business class which has a higher carbon footprint per passenger than economy class, seeking to combine long-distance journeys, choosing to travel by train rather than flying where possible and combining seasons and collections.
The scope of the research included travel to and from fashion weeks, travel within cities during fashion weeks, staff accommodation and transport of collections, including during collections in Amsterdam, Antwerp, Auckland, Barcelona, Beijing, Berlin, Brussels, Chicago, Copenhagen, Düsseldorf, Florence, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Madrid, Munich, Naples, Seoul, Shanghai, Stockholm, Tokyo and Zurich.
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