Fashion’s carbon impact: progress made, but more needed

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By: Paige Bennett

A new report from Wrap, a climate action NGO, finds that despite making gains in lowering their carbon impact, such as reducing carbon impact and water usage per garment, fashion companies’ efforts are being canceled out by increased production.

The Textiles 2030 Annual Progress Report reviewed brands that had signed up to Wrap’s voluntary Textiles 2030 initiative, in which participating businesses aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions of new products by 50% and reduce the aggregate water footprint of new products by 30% compared to levels measured in 2019.

According to the report, participating brands reduced carbon impact by 12% and water usage by 4% per metric ton from 2019 to 2022. Wrap noted these improvements happened because of actions such as reusing and recycling clothes at higher rates.

Yet textile production and sales has increased 13% for the participating businesses, as the average person in the UK purchases about 28 new pieces, or 8 kilograms (17.6 pounds) of clothing per year, Wrap found.

Overall, the 26 participating companies, including major retailers like AllSaints, ASOS, Boohoo, Gymshark, Primark and Urban Outfitters, had only a 2% reduction in total carbon impact from 2019 to 2022. Total water usage was actually up overall by 8%. Participants totalled 3.1 million cubic meters of water consumption in 2022, or enough water to supply 53% of the global population with drinking water for an entire year.

“If we hope to get anywhere near achieving the critical goals of the Paris Agreement, we must get serious about textiles and everyone has a role to play,” Catherine David, director of behaviour change and business programmes at WRAP, said in a statement. “We need sustainable design, sustainable business models, and more sustainable ways of buying and using clothes from more businesses. But production is clearly the key issue, and the onus is on businesses to make preloved part of their portfolio, so it’s accessible, easy and fun.”

Wrap noted that businesses have a critical role to play in reducing consumption, designing for longevity, recycling materials and developing more circular business models that incorporate actions like repairing and renting clothing. 

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But consumers will also need to adopt more sustainable shopping habits, David shared. According to the report, just 9% of products sold by retailers were “preloved.”

“We buy more clothes than any other nation in Europe. Our research shows that a quarter of most wardrobes go unworn in a year and nearly a quarter of us admit to wearing clothes only a few times,” David explained. “Moving into winter is the perfect time to look through our wardrobes — wear what we have and consider whether it’s time to let something go. You can donate, sell, or give clothes away — it all helps them move around the economy and reduce the amount produced.”

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