The Issues: Energy

To reach the Paris Climate Agreement target of holding planetary temperatures at just 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels, the global community must achieve zero carbon emissions by 2050. This means the current trends of rising emissions must peak by 2020, and then decline rapidly. 

Fashion’s contribution to carbon emissions

If the fashion industry were a country, it would be the sixth largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world, behind China, the USA, the European Union, India and Russia. In fact, the emissions it creates are equivalent to 372 million cars driving for one year, according to the 2017 Pulse of the Fashion Industry Report1.

Fibre production, spinning, weaving, dyeing and finishing fabrics, as well as clothing manufacture, all consume high levels of energy. Fuels are used in machinery for ploughing and harvesting, while electricity is the most common power source for factory machinery, cooling and temperature control systems, lighting and office equipment. Oil is used to fuel boilers to generate steam, as well as liquefied petroleum gas, coal and city gas. 

Some key facts:

  • The Carbon Trust reports that clothing accounts for around 3 per cent of globally produced carbon emissions.
  • According to Textile World, it takes 132 million tonnes of coal to produce 60 billion kilograms of textiles2.
  • By 2030, on current trends, emissions from production are set to rise 60 per cent, reaching an estimated 2.8 billion tonnes of CO23.
  • The use of freight transport by the fashion industry is set to triple by 2040.

It takes 132 million tonnes of coal to produce 60 billion kilograms of textiles

If the fashion industry doesn’t change the way it currently operates, it is on track to increase its contribution to global emissions by 50 per cent by 2030 – not decrease them in line with Paris Climate targets. As well as changes to production and distribution systems, consumer awareness and behaviour change are also key. Around half of the carbon dioxide from the fashion industry occurs at the consumer end, from the wearing, washing, tumble drying, ironing and dry cleaning of clothes – mostly in North America, the EU and Japan. Beyond this, durability of clothing should also be considered. A fashion item made to last is far more energy efficient than one which ends up quickly re-entering a textile recycling programme, or worse, going to landfill.

Reducing energy use also reduces cost, so any progress would be a win-win for the fashion industry. The Pulse Report estimates that improved energy management in the fashion industry could net a potential value of €63 billion3.

Manufacturers and factory owners can reduce energy use by:

  • sourcing raw materials such as cotton from certified sustainable sources, including organic, Fairtrade, Better Cotton Initiative, and supporting energy efficiency for farmers and producers;
  • improving efficiency of electricity use including lighting (energy efficient bulbs), electric motors, heating systems;
  • reviewing the types and levels of fuels used (coal, oil, biomass), install energy efficient boilers, collect and recycle heat energy from steam water;
  • collecting and recycling heat energy generated through production processes.

Fashion brands and retailers can also:

  • seek out and support supply chain partners with a commitment to energy efficiency;
  • consider the total lifecycle of the product, including the consumer at the product design stage, and the durability of the product;
  • take action to increase energy efficiency in their transportation, packaging, and retail outlets;
  • provide energy efficient care instructions to their customers;
  • invest in carbon off-setting schemes within their own supply chains (known as in-setting), to support producers and supply chain partners to invest in greater energy efficiency. 

For more information:

Sustainable Apparel Coalition Higg Index Environmental Module includes emissions reduction and energy efficiency

Fibre2Fashion, Energy Conservation in Textile Industries

The Carbon Trust 

Euratex Energy Made to Measure (campaign for fashion/textile SMEs to improve energy efficiency)

UNIDO Manual on Energy Conservation in the Textile Industry (1992, dated but still relevant!)


1. Global Fashion Agenda (2017) The Pulse of the Fashion Industry Report

2. Textile World Ecology And Economy In Textile Finishing

3. Global Fashion Agenda (2017) The Pulse of the Fashion Industry Report

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