DELIVERING EU ENVIRONMENTAL POLICY THROUGH FAIR COMPARISONS OF NATURAL AND SYNTHETIC FIBRE TEXTILES IN PEF

Make the Label Count Campaign: Simon J. Clarke, Ingun G. Klepp, Kirsi Laitala and Stephen G. Wiedemann.

Summary

Sustainability has become a priority objective for the European Union (EU). It is a key driver for policy development through the global leadership role the EU has taken in addressing climate change, decoupling economic growth from resource use, and the sustainable use of
resources. The global supply of textiles has been recognized by the EU as a major source of emissions and resource use; the sector has become increasingly reliant on fossil feedstocks to supply synthetic fibres, and the textile industry has been roundly criticised for unsustainable and non-circular consumption patterns.


The Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) system – which assesses a product’s environmental impact and provides consumers with information on that impact – has the potential to be paramount in directing the textile sector towards a sustainable system of production and consumption. However, the PEF system has not been designed to deliver the EU’s strategies and, without amendment, its application to the textiles sector risks undermining the EU’s laudable intent. The PEF system is designed to facilitate like-with-like comparisons, but assessment of textiles made from natural and synthetic fibres are not yet comparable because the impacts of forming natural fibres are fully accounted for, but omitted for fossil fuels. The single biggest sustainability issue for the textile industry is the growth in synthetic fibre production and the causally related rise in fast fashion. A PEF-derived comparison will not challenge the over-consumption of resources, and risks legitimising unsustainable consumption with an EU-backed green claim.


These limitations present a significant challenge to the delivery of both EU strategy and the PEF goal of providing fair comparisons of products based on their environmental credentials.


In combination, the characteristics of the textiles category, together with the limitations of PEF methodology, provide a strong argument for not comparing textiles made from renewable and non-renewable raw materials. However, achieving the EU Green Deal and circular economy objectives mandates a pragmatic approach; hence our analysis recommends methodological improvements to deliver EU environmental policy through fair comparisons of natural and synthetic fibre textiles in PEF. Addressing these limitations now will avoid
the same problems arising when PEF is applied to other product categories that compare renewable and non-renewable raw materials, such as furniture and fuel.

Click here to read the full report (makethelabelcount.org).

Fossil Fashion: How Green Growth is Undermining the Circular Economy

Why the fashion industry, driven by the green growth notion, cannot recycle its way out of the climate crisis

By Tone Skårdal Tobiasson

Tone is co-editor of “Local, Slow and Sustainable Fashion Fibres: Wool as a Fabric For Change”, from Palgrave Macmillan, out on December 18, 2021.

As the world comes to terms with the climate crisis and the environmental devastation of our over-consumption, we are increasingly being told that switching to greener products will not only save us, but be good for the economy. This is the principle behind “green growth”, which encourages us to continue consuming as long as the products we buy are more sustainable. But could it be that someone is pulling wool over our eyes?

The fashion industry has become one of the main culprits in the blaming-and-shaming for carbon-emissions, and numbers have been thrown around at a rate that rivals fast fashion. One of the most used statistics is that textiles in 2015 emitted 1.2 billion tons of carbon dioxide, equivalent or more than maritime shipping and international flights combined, a number that has since been challenged. However, the fashion industry is far from off the hook. 

Click here to read the full article (impakter.com).

Durable or cheap? Parents’ acquisition of children’s clothing

Ingun Grimstad Klepp & Vilde Haugrønning

Abstract

Parents are faced with a plurality of choices and concerns when it comes to the acquisition of clothing for their children. This paper explores how parents employ longevity in consumption of children’s clothing from a practice-oriented perspective. The material consists of 6 focus groups with 40 parents who have at least one child under the age of 18. The aim of the groups was to establish children’s clothing needs: how many they need of each garment, how long parents expect the garment to last and what they understand as quality in clothing.

The analysis shows that parents mainly opt for an ‘one or the other’ strategy; they choose what they understand as quality, often affiliated with specific brands, and accept paying more for the garment, or they mainly choose based on low prices, and expect less of the garment. Quality is evaluated based on the garments’ durability and function. More specifically, the parents measure the service lifetime of a garment based on the number of seasons it lasts, either in terms of wear and tear or the child growing out of it. The expected lifetime is defined by uncertain sources, from their own and friends’ experiences, and their desire to justify their own choices as well as routinised practices.

Our discussion section employs these findings and contextualise them within product lifetime discourses. By doing this, we provide knowledge about how quality is understood, and how brand and price are used as indicators. We show how lack of information about products, especially on garments, leads to uninformed consumption practices that have consequences for how quality and longevity are prioritised and understood.

Click here to read the full article (www.ul.ie)

Consumer practices for extending the social lifetimes of sofas and clothing

Vilde Haugrønning, Kirsi Laitala & Ingun Grimstad Klepp

Abstract

Consumers play an essential role in efforts to extend product lifetimes (PL) and consumers’ practices can determine how long and active lives products get. Applying the framework of Social Practice Theory, this paper argues that in order to suggest changes to how consumers can contribute to longer product lifespans, research needs to focus on consumer practices. The data material consists of 4 focus group interviews with 38 participants about household goods and 29 semi-structured interviews about clothing.

Previous research shows that consumers’ expectations of product lifetime has decreased, while satisfaction with products is relatively high, which may indicate that product break down and/or replacement is more accepted. Therefore, we argue, it is necessary to focus on social lifespans. Our findings show that products such as clothing and sofas often go out of use or are disposed of before their physical lifespan ends, and it is more common to donate or sell old clothing and sofas than buying the products second hand. There are a number of routinised practices, such as disposal of functional items, that are considered normal, which leads to less reflexivity of seemingly unsustainable practices.

The material in products, or the expectation to the material, is highly influential for practices that can extend the social lifespan, such as maintenance. We conclude that by understanding practices as integrated and influenced by elements of the material, social and cultural, policy interventions may have a greater impact on the social lifespan of products.

Click here to read the full article (www.ul.ie)

Reducing environmental impacts from garments through best practice garment use and care, using the example of a Merino wool sweater

Stephen G. Weidemann, Leo Briggs, Quan V. Nguyen, Simon J. Clarke, Kirsi Laitala and Ingun G. Klepp

Abstract

Purpose

Garment production and use generate substantial environmental impacts, and the care and use are key determinants of cradle-to-grave impacts. The present study investigated the potential to reduce environmental impacts by applying best practices for garment care combined with increased garment use. A wool sweater is used as an example because wool garments have particular attributes that favour reduced environmental impacts in the use phase.

Methods

A cradle-to-grave life cycle assessment (LCA) was used to compare six plausible best and worst-case practice scenarios for use and care of a wool sweater, relative to current practices. These focussed on options available to consumers to reduce impacts, including reduced washing frequency, use of more efficient washing machines, reduced use of machine clothing dryers, garment reuse by multiple users, and increasing number of garment wears before disposal. A sixth scenario combined all options. Worst practices took the worst plausible alternative for each option investigated. Impacts were reported per wear in Western Europe for climate change, fossil energy demand, water stress and freshwater consumption.

Results and discussion

Washing less frequently reduced impacts by between 4 and 20%, while using more efficient washing machines at capacity reduced impacts by 1 to 6%, depending on the impact category. Reduced use of machine dryer reduced impacts by < 5% across all indicators. Reusing garments by multiple users increased life span and reduced impacts by 25–28% across all indicators. Increasing wears from 109 to 400 per garment lifespan had the largest effect, decreasing impacts by 60% to 68% depending on the impact category. Best practice care, where garment use was maximised and care practices focussed on the minimum practical requirements, resulted in a ~ 75% reduction in impacts across all indicators. Unsurprisingly, worst-case scenarios increased impacts dramatically: using the garment once before disposal increased GHG impacts over 100 times.

Conclusions

Wool sweaters have potential for long life and low environmental impact in use, but there are substantial differences between the best, current and worst-case scenarios. Detailed information about garment care and lifespans is needed to understand and reduce environmental impacts. Opportunities exist for consumers to rapidly and dramatically reduce these impacts. The fashion industry can facilitate this through garment design and marketing that promotes and enables long wear life and minimal care.

Click here to read the full article (springer.com).

What Affects Garment Lifespans? International Clothing Practices Based on a Wardrobe Survey in China, Germany, Japan, the UK, and the USA

Kirsi Laitala and Ingun Grimstad Klepp

Abstract

Increasing the length of clothing lifespans is crucial for reducing the total environmental impacts. This article discusses which factors contribute to the length of garment lifespans by studying how long garments are used, how many times they are worn, and by how many users. The analysis is based on quantitative wardrobe survey data from China, Germany, Japan, the UK, and the USA. Variables were divided into four blocks related respectively to the garment, user, garment use, and clothing practices, and used in two hierarchical multiple regressions and two binary logistic regressions.

The models explain between 11% and 43% of the variation in clothing lifespans. The garment use block was most indicative for the number of wears, while garment related properties contribute most to variation in the number of users. For lifespans measured in years, all four aspects were almost equally important. Some aspects that affect the lifespans of clothing cannot be easily changed (e.g., the consumer’s income, nationality, and age) but they can be used to identify where different measures can have the largest benefits. Several of the other conditions that affect lifespans can be changed (e.g., garment price and attitudes towards fashion) through quality management, marketing strategies, information, and improved consumer policies.

Click here to read the full article (mdpi.com).

Environmental impacts associated with the production, use, and end-of-life of a woollen garment

S.G. Wiedemann, L. Biggs, B. Nebel, K. Bauch, K. Laitala, I.G. Klepp, P.G. Swan and K. Watson.

Abstract

Purpose

The textiles industry is a substantial contributor to environmental impacts through the production, processing, use, and end-of-life of garments. Wool is a high value, natural, and renewable fibre that is used to produce a wide range of garments, from active leisure wear to formal wear, and represents a small segment of the global fashion industry. Woollen garments are produced by long, global value chains extending from the production of ‘greasy’ wool on sheep farms, through processing to garment make-up, retail, consumer use, and end-of-life. To date, there have been limited life cycle assessment (LCA) studies on the environmental impacts of the full supply chain or use phase of garments, with the majority of wool LCA studies focusing on a segment of the supply chain. This study aimed to address this knowledge gap via a cradle-to-grave LCA of a woollen garment.

Methods

This study investigated greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, fossil fuel energy, and water stress associated with the production, use, and end-of-life of a lightweight woollen sweater (300-g wool), together with inventory results for freshwater consumption and land occupation. Primary datasets were used for the wool production and wool processing stages, while primary datasets relating to consumer garment use were supplemented with literature data. Impacts were calculated and reported per garment wear event.

Results and discussion

Impacts per wear were 0.17 (± 0.02) kg CO2-e GHG, 0.88 (± 0.18) MJ fossil energy, and 0.96 (± 0.42) H2O-e water stress. Fossil fuel energy was dominated by wool processing, with substantial contributions of energy also arising from retail and garment care. Greenhouse gas emissions from wool production (farming) contributed the highest proportion of impacts, followed by lower contributions from processing and garment care. Contributions to water stress varied less across the supply chain, with major contributions arising from production, processing, and garment use.

Conclusions

Opportunities to improve the efficiency of production, processing, and garment care exist, which could also reduce resource use and impacts from wool. However, the number of garment wear events and length of garment lifetime was found to be the most influential factor in determining garment impacts. This indicated that consumers have the largest capacity to influence the sustainability of their woollen garments by maximising the active garment lifespan which will reduce overall impacts.

Click here to read the full article (springer.com).

Does Use Matter? Comparison of Environmental Impacts of Clothing Based on Fiber Type

Kirsi Laitala, Ingun Grimstad Klepp & Beverley Henry

Abstract

Several tools have been developed to compare the environmental impact of textiles. The most widely used are Higg Materials Sustainability Index (MSI) and MADE-BY Fiber Benchmark. They use data from production to evaluate the environmental impacts of textiles differentiated by fiber type. The use phase is excluded from both tools. This article discusses whether there is evidence that the use of textiles differs systematically between different fiber types and examines the consequences of comparing the environmental impacts of clothing based on differences in production of fibers alone without including differences in their use.

The empirical material in this paper is based on analysis of rating tools and a literature review on clothing use. It shows that fiber content contributes to the way consumers take care of and use their clothing. When use is omitted, major environmental problems associated with this stage, such as spread of microplastics, are also excluded. This one-sided focus on material production impacts also excludes the importance of product lifespans, quality, and functionality. The consequence is that short-lived disposable products are equated with durable products. Comparing dissimilar garments will not help consumers to make choices that will reduce the environmental burden of clothing. We need an informed discussion on how to use all materials in the most environmentally sustainable way possible.

Click here to read the full article (oda.oslomet.no)

Use phase of apparel: A Literature review for Life Cycle Assessment with focus on wool.

Kirsi Laitala, Ingun Grimstad Klepp & Beverley Henry

Summary

This report presents a literature review of clothing use phase. The purpose is to support improved methodological development for accounting for the use phase in Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) of apparel. All relevant textile fibres are included in the review. However, the main focus is on wool. We ask whether the use of wool has different environmental impacts than clothes in other fibres. The report builds on a review of literature from the past 20 years. The review showed that clothing made from different materials are used, and reused in different ways. Wool is washed differently as it has about ten degrees lower washing temperature than the average laundry in Europe. Wool is also more likely to be either dry-cleaned or washed by hand than other textiles. Moreover, when dried, it is less likely to be tumble-dried.

When comparing the number of days between the washes of different types of clothes, we found that respondents were likely to use their woollen products about twice as long between washes compared to their equivalent cotton products. We also found that woollen products had a longer average lifespan and were more likely to be reused or recycled. There is a lot of research-based information available concerning the use and re-use of clothing, and we believe there are sufficient results available on which to base LCA studies. Furthermore, we believe that environmental tools that compare different fibres but exclude use phase provide misleading results. Including the use phase in fibre ranking benchmark tools will improve the rigour and accuracy of these tools for all fibres, compared to reporting results for fibre production only. However, we have also shown that there are several methodological, conceptual and empirical knowledge gaps in existing literature.

Click here to read the full report (researchgate.net)

Environmentally Sustainable Textile Consumption—What Characterizes the Political Textile Consumers?

Marthe Hårvik Austgulen

Abstract

The textile and clothing industry is considered as one of the most polluting industries in the world. Still, the regulation of environmental hazards connected to the industry is very limited, and much responsibility is placed on the shoulders of consumers. One of the few ways that ordinary consumers can seek to influence the textile and clothing industry is through their own consumption practices and their wallet. This article departs from the discourse on sustainable consumption and the role of the consumer as an agent for change, and the article investigates the characteristics of the consumers who practice deliberate environmentally sustainable consumption of textiles and clothing. This is done through the lens of political consumption. Based on a cross-national survey conducted in five Western European countries, factors that have been found to predict general political consumption in previous research are tested on the field of textiles and clothing. The findings demonstrate both similarities and some discrepancies with previous studies of political consumption as well as significant country variations.

Click here to read the full article (springer.com).