Sustainable Fashion

Everything you want to know about the sustainability of the textile and fashion industry

Aligning Human Rights and Environmental Goals: The Playbook

In the ever-evolving fashion industry, the pursuit of sustainability has become essential, not only to address environmental concerns but also to uphold human rights. The “Sustainable Fashion Communication Playbook” by UNEP and UNFCCC (2023) provides a comprehensive framework for aligning fashion communication with the 1.5-degree climate target and broader sustainability goals, emphasizing the integration of human rights into sustainable fashion practices​​.

The Environmental and Human Rights Crisis in Fashion

The fashion industry significantly contributes to global greenhouse gas emissions, pollution, and resource depletion, making it a key player in the ongoing planetary crisis. Currently responsible for 2% to 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions, the sector also faces scrutiny for its substantial environmental footprint, including pollution, water extraction, and biodiversity impacts​​. Beyond environmental issues, the fashion industry is plagued by social injustices, including exploitation, forced labor, and unsafe working conditions, particularly in developing countries. Workers in the textile value chain face systematic underpayment, forced labor, severe health risks, and verbal and physical abuse. Women, who represent the majority of the garment workforce, are particularly vulnerable to gender-based violence and harassment​​.

Principles for Sustainable Fashion Communication

The Playbook outlines four key principles for sustainable fashion communication:

  1. Countering Misinformation and Greenwashing: Accurate and transparent communication is crucial to combat the prevalence of misleading environmental claims. The European Commission found that over 50% of environmental claims in the EU are vague or unfounded​​. Sustainable fashion communicators must ensure their messages are science-based and verifiable.
  2. Reducing Messages Perpetuating Overconsumption: Fashion communicators are urged to shift the narrative from promoting constant newness and disposability to advocating for sustainable lifestyles. This involves promoting circular fashion models, such as resale, rental, repair, and upcycling, which can significantly reduce the environmental impact of fashion consumption​​.
  3. Reimagining Values: The Playbook calls for a cultural shift in how fashion is perceived, encouraging alternative models of status and success that decouple identity from newness. By fostering a narrative that values sustainability, communicators can influence consumer behavior towards more responsible consumption patterns​​.
  4. Empowering Consumers: Consumers play a critical role in driving systemic change by demanding greater accountability from businesses and policymakers. Effective communication can empower consumers to make informed choices and advocate for sustainable practices within the fashion industry​​.

Integrating Human Rights into Sustainable Fashion

The Playbook emphasizes that sustainable fashion must go beyond environmental considerations to include human rights. This involves ensuring fair wages, safe working conditions, and respect for workers’ rights throughout the supply chain. The integration of human rights into sustainability frameworks is essential for achieving a just and equitable fashion industry​​.

The Role of Policymakers and Stakeholders

Policymakers play a crucial role in creating an enabling environment for sustainable fashion. The Playbook calls for policies that support sustainable practices, discourage overproduction, and incentivize circular models. Collaboration among brands, NGOs, advocacy groups, and consumers is vital to drive the industry towards a more sustainable and ethical future​​.

  1. Policy Development and Implementation:
    • Policymakers are urged to develop regulations that enforce sustainable practices and discourage overproduction. These policies should include stringent frameworks on green claims, mandates on disclosures, and incentives for adopting circular business models.
    • Example: The EU’s Circular Economy Action Plan (CEAP) aims to ensure that products are designed to last longer and be easier to repair, reuse, and recycle, promoting a shift towards a more circular economy.
  2. Incentives for Sustainable Practices:
    • Governments can provide financial incentives, such as tax breaks, grants, and subsidies, to businesses that implement sustainable practices. These incentives can encourage innovation and investment in sustainable technologies and processes.
    • Example: France’s Anti-Waste for a Circular Economy Law (AGEC) includes measures to reduce waste and promote recycling, providing a framework for sustainable production and consumption.
  3. Support for SMEs and Developing Countries:
    • Recognizing that small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and businesses in developing countries may lack the resources to implement sustainable practices, policymakers should offer targeted support. This can include access to funding, technical assistance, and capacity-building programs.
    • Example: The Global Fashion Agenda (GFA) collaborates with industry stakeholders to support SMEs in adopting sustainable practices through various initiatives and resources.
  4. Consumer Education and Engagement:
    • Policymakers and stakeholders should collaborate to educate consumers about the importance of sustainable fashion and the impact of their purchasing decisions. This includes campaigns to raise awareness and promote sustainable consumption patterns.
    • Example: The Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s Make Fashion Circular initiative engages consumers and industry stakeholders in promoting circular fashion models and reducing waste.
  5. Advocacy and Collaboration:
    • NGOs, advocacy groups, and industry associations play a critical role in advocating for policy changes and holding businesses accountable for their sustainability commitments. Collaboration among these groups can amplify their impact and drive systemic change.
    • Example: The Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action, convened by UNFCCC, brings together fashion stakeholders to collectively address climate change and promote sustainable practices across the industry.
  6. Monitoring and Accountability:
    • To ensure that policies and initiatives are effective, policymakers should establish mechanisms for monitoring compliance and holding businesses accountable. This includes regular reporting, audits, and penalties for non-compliance.
    • Example: The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) in the UK investigates and enforces against misleading green claims to ensure that businesses provide accurate information about their sustainability efforts.

Measuring Success

Measuring the success of sustainable fashion communication efforts involves several key indicators and outcomes. The Playbook provides a detailed framework for assessing progress:

  1. Lead with Science:
    • Measures: The number of businesses providing credible sustainability information, understanding and complying with environmental claims codes, and increasing transparency by publishing clear and accessible sustainability information .
    • Outcomes: Increased consumer understanding and awareness of key environmental and social impacts, shift in purchase intention towards lower impact options, and industry-wide increase in data accessibility and quantifiable information .
  2. Change Behaviors and Practices:
    • Measures: Reduction in sales tactics promoting overconsumption, increase in messages promoting circular business models, and better use phase impacts .
    • Outcomes: Increased consumer awareness and positive views of circular and sustainable business models, reduction in new items produced, and growth in market revenue from repair and refurbishment businesses .
  3. Reimagine Values:
    • Measures: Increase in messages encouraging sustainable lifestyles, number of organizations promoting sustainable values, and diverse and inclusive imagery .
    • Outcomes: Positive shift in public opinion and actions supporting sustainable fashion, marked improvement in the social status of sustainable fashion, and shift in cultural norms tied to fashion consumption .
  4. Drive Advocacy:
    • Measures: Increase in storytelling focused on advocacy and activism, number of organizations offering feedback mechanisms on sustainability, and engagement with policy discussions .
    • Outcomes: Increase in consumers and stakeholders participating in the sustainable fashion movement, engagement in policy advocacy, and stakeholders challenging industry status quo on social justice and environmental issues .

The Playbook underscores the importance of integrating these principles into internal reporting and creating accountability and governance structures to ensure long-term success in sustainable fashion communication .

Development and Consultation

The Playbook was developed through industry-wide consultations, literature analysis, and peer review. It incorporates insights from a diverse network of stakeholders, including government officials, researchers, NGOs, fashion brands, and retailers​​.

Connecting to Policy

The Playbook links to UNEP’s Textile Flagship Initiative and the Global Fashion Agenda (GFA) to identify and converge industry ambitions on circular systems. It highlights the need for policy intervention to enact systemic change and support sustainable communication in the fashion industry​​.

The “Sustainable Fashion Communication Playbook” provides a comprehensive framework for fashion communicators to align their efforts with sustainability targets, incorporating both environmental and social factors. By adhering to the principles outlined in the Playbook, the fashion industry can move towards a more sustainable and equitable future, integrating human rights into the sustainability narrative and driving systemic change in the fashion industry.