Fashion has been named one of the most polluting industries in the world, not only because of the excessive waste it generates, but also due to its heavy carbon footprint. While consumers easily understand that fashion waste is responsible for overflowing landfills, the carbon footprint is often misunderstood and overlooked.
When understanding the global impact of our purchases, we must take a thorough look at the entire journey of our garments. Chances are that throughout its production stages, that item of clothing travelled the world before reaching us. Matching sustainability and international shipping can be complicated. While aiming for more ethical and conscious purchases, we tend not to consider the indirect negative impacts, because, well, they are not just that easy to analize.
Looking specifically at shipping, it bears a highly considerable impact on the environment. Cargo ships represent roughly 90% of the global trade, transporting nearly 11 billion tons of goods per year. It’s estimated that shipping accounts for 3-4% of all human-related carbon emissions. This number may go up to 17% by 2050, according to a recent report from the European parliament.
Every action has its own cost, but which has the least negative impact?
Despite its impact, transportation by boat is the least expensive and more carbon-efficient option we have nowadays: when compared to other alternatives, it represents roughly half of the carbon emissions of trains, one-fifth as much as a truck, and nearly one fiftieth of what an airplane would emit to accomplish the same task.
So what’s the solution? Avoid sustainable fashion? Buy just at local shops?
Regardless of whether we buy a piece of clothing online or at our local high street, that item has already travelled around the world, with considerable impact on the environment up to that point. As such, our focus should be reducing our carbon footprint as much as possible by:
- Supporting circular or zero waste
- Choosing brands that support environmental organizations.
- Avoid express shipping
- And finally, trying to reduce our consumption in general.
The single best thing we can do for our planet is to prolong the lifespan of our garments, using them longer and cutting down on excessive consumption.