Are Your Favorite Jeans Part of the Climate Problem?

Clothing companies might be ignoring as much as 90 percent of the climate pollution they generate.

Author: Hannah Lownsbrough | Published: December 7, 2017

As the fashion industry prepares for the holiday season, many high-profile brands will pump out new trends and products faster than ever before. All too often, however, that business helps drive severe damage to our global climate due to the fashion industry’s extraordinarily high levels of pollution. As 2017 draws to close, the fashion industry must step up to the challenge and redeem their terrible track record by reducing carbon emissions. The first step is simple: companies must open their record books and allow for more accurate calculations on the environmental impact of their production methods and subsequent climate impact.

Sadly, instead of increased transparency and commitments, fashion CEOs are hiding behind greenwashed PR campaigns, like the disappointing announcement made by Levi’s, Gap, Guess, Wrangler, and Lee at a New York climate week event this past autumn. CEOs of the world’s famous denim brands said they would announce climate targets in two years, a deadline far longer than necessary to complete a basic step. While these CEOs continue to delay the climate commitment process, denim supply chains are continuing to pump carbon dioxide into the atmosphere without recourse.

Denim and clothing companies will do all that they can to fudge the link between their brands and the realities of greenhouse gas emissions. According to reports from the Carbon Disclosure Project, companies within the fashion sector might be ignoring as much as 90 percent of the climate pollution they generate. Like too many industries before them, the fashion industry is attempting to solve the problem of its own emissions by outsourcing production to contractors in countries with less strict emissions regulations, namely China or Bangladesh. But despite the ostensible attractiveness of these short-term solutions, the long-term consequences could be catastrophic. These businesses can no longer afford to look away from the climate legacy they will leave behind.

Right now, the clothing and accessories industry is a huge contributor to global climate change. According to one study, the industry generates about 3 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, roughly equal to the pollution created by putting 163 million new passenger cars on the road. A study by a leading clothing company concluded that one pair of denim jeans produces 44 pounds of greenhouse gas emissions, equivalent to driving a car almost 48 miles or burning over 21 pounds of coal. Manufacturing a single pair of denim jeans produces 44 pounds of CO2, roughly equal to the greenhouse gas emissions from driving a passenger car nearly 50 miles.