The green problem of fashion and the six things it should do

The European House – Ambrosetti publishes the study Just Fashion Transition and reiterates that the most serious green problem in fashion is “the lack of unambiguous data on environmental and social impacts”. Chaos and self-referentiality, in short, generate greenwashing. How to get out of it?


Fashion has a green problem. It’s obvious by now. Everyone knows it by now. And this problem has two faces. The first, the one in whole light, is marked by a deep scar: greenwashing. The less visible but equally worrying one is represented by the discovery (if it is) that “there is a lack of unambiguous data on the environmental and social impacts of the fashion industry“. The European House says this – Ambrosetti, presented the results of the Just Fashion Transition study in Venice at the end of October 2022, indicating the six possible ways to solve this problem.

The green issue of fashion

This study stems from research that ‘evaluated the economic and financial performance of 2,700 companies in the supply chain and the sustainability of 167 companies in the Italian supply chain’. Not only: “It analysed the sustainability management tools of the 100 largest European companies”. Among the various findings, this very significant remark stands out: ‘Today, it is only possible to rely on estimates that produce very different results.

For example, we need to find out the figure for climate-changing emissions generated by the fashion industry, which are between 2 and 8.1 per cent of global emissions. As is the figure for water consumption, where the highest estimate is three times higher than the lowest (215 versus 79 billion cubic metres). If one then goes into detail to check the water consumption required to produce a pair of jeans, the difference exceeds five times (20,000 versus 3,781 litres).

In Europe, where consolidated sets have been built, the environmental data are much more reliable and show that 75% of the negative externalities are produced outside the European Union’. Good. In fact, very bad. So: what to do? For Ambrosetti, there are six ways out of this dead end.

The six things fashion should do

1 – ‘The voluntary and mandatory tools that the EU is introducing to test and provide feedback and recommendations to improve their implementation must be adopted early. Companies must be constantly updated on the evolution of European policies and those of the main world institutions on the subject’.

2 – ‘Governments must define an annual agenda identifying the priorities, the actors involved, and the main lines of action’. And they must direct ‘public funding towards SMEs by seeking partnerships with private financial institutions’.

3 – ‘Alliances between different actors in the supply chain will be crucial. Better: the creation of professional communities, in addition to overcoming barriers to financing innovation, will have to help disseminate good practices and advocacy activities’.

4 – In order to solve the lack of homogeneous and shared data, ‘a permanent observatory is needed, implemented in cooperation with trade associations and industry alliances’. Objective: ‘Collect, synthesise and disseminate data on the sector’. Ambrosetti ‘proposes to agree on calculation methodologies and start collecting data on a minimum data set‘. For example. “Minimum wages, water consumption, chemical use, greenhouse gas emissions, recyclable raw materials”.

5 – There is a need to ‘translate public concern for the environment into consistent consumer behaviour‘. In other words, ‘opening up to the outside world through events dedicated to social and environmental issues‘. And also ‘The use of the universal language of music and the integration of school and university curricula to promote widespread cultural change’.

6 – The last recommendation suggests “the need to reinvest fixed shares of brand margins to encourage the scalability of circular business models and the sharing of best practices in the sector”. This is because “the sustainable transition will be facilitated if the companies in the luxury supply chain, essentially present in France and Italy, constitute a vanguard capable of working as a system and dictating the agenda at European work tables and international institutions”.

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