Entering 2021, we have 10 years to reach the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) set by the United Nations in 2015 and adopted by all Member States.
The SDG’s are an urgent call for action, recognizing that all 17 goals should be met no later than 2030, none is less important than the other, if we wish to save our planet, our climate, our biodiversity and humanity and reduce inequality caused by difference in gender, health, poverty and education.
Action does not just lie with our governments. The 17 SDG’s are for each and every one of us to try and reach. Not least for the fashion industry, whose imprint on the climate equals that of UK, France and Germany combined.
So how can the industry become part of achieving the SDGs?
In many ways the fashion industry is already on its way. It not only helps citizens to express their individuality but is a driver for helping people out of poverty and especially women – for example women make up 85% of the workers in the Bangladeshi garment industry
Research shows that when women become economically independent, they invest in their children and their community, sharing their values and lifting others out of poverty as well as making sure that their children go to school. Through education, you can begin to rethink the existing and change your society for better. For fashion, that means innovate materials and production methods to do better both economically and climate wise. How can the fashion industry do good, and only good? Here is a quick guide to how the fashion industry can meet the 17 SDG’s – explore each of the 17 goals to learn more.
1. No poverty
SDG 1 is to end poverty in all its forms everywhere. Even though the fashion industry does create millions of jobs, lifting people out of economic poverty, it has a huge challenge in making sure the jobs provided are decent and providing fair wages for employees in every link of the supply chain; offering living wages and not just minimal wages. Watch Outland Denim CEO James Bartle in a conversation with Baroness Lola Young and Professor Kevin Bales regarding respectfull working conditions here.
2. Zero hunger
In producing textile materials such as cotton, the fashion industry takes up land that could be used for producing food and uses enormous amounts of water that could be used for both drinking and farming. By reusing and recycling material that is already made, or by innovating materials out of waste, e.g. making leather out of apples or pineapples, more farmland can be used for food. By reducing the use of water in the production of materials, more water can be used for farmland and drinking.
3. Good health and well-being
The COVID-19 crisis highlighted that the fashion industry must be equipped to provide employees health care and healthy work conditions. International Labour Organization (ILO) is part of a Garment Industry Call to Action, with commitments from various industry parties that include speeding access to emergency financing for both workers and employers and establishing stronger health and social protections to contribute to a more resilient fashion industry in the future. Learn more here
4. Quality education
On an individual level, workers in the fashion industry can get to know their rights through education, leading to fairer wages and work conditions. On an industry level, by educating the next generation of designers and re-educating the existing ones in sustainable fashion design and garment construction, the use of new and innovative alternatives and in sustainable supply chain management, the fashion industry will develop for the better. This was showcased in the production of 3-D recyclable shoes by Cornelius Schmitt from Zellerfeld Shoe Company Inc.
5. Gender equality
Fashion seeks to empower by offering everyone the opportunity to convey their identity through what they wear, no matter your sex. It goes without saying that the fashion industry should always seek to be “blind” as to what sex, the employee has. But with this being said, we also know that the majority of the workers in the fashion industry are women and that they are being discriminated with uncertain work conditions and poor (if any) social safety nets. HRH Crown Princess Mary of Denmark met some of the garment factory workers in Bangladesh and shared to her concerns for the women here.
6. Clean water and sanitation
According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, textile production uses around 93 billion cubic metres of water annually. It takes 2,700 liters of water alone to make just one conventional cotton T-shirt. The same amount that one person will drink over three years. Not to mention the potential pollution during the dyeing and finishing process of materials like denim or leather. Sustainable innovations are reducing this, so you should always try to choose the sustainable alternative when you need to buy new.
7. Affordable and clean energy
By using green energy, such as solar and wind, the fashion industry can reduce the amount of CO2 emissions from 2020 to 2030 by 50%, as shown in the 2020 Fashion on Climate report, made in collaboration between Global Fashion Agenda and McKinsey & Company. Learn more here. For fashion on climate justice, go to SDG 13.
8. Decent work and economic growth
SDG 8 seeks to promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all. Decent work, employment creation, social protection, rights at work and social dialogue are necessities in the fashion industry. We must work actively to end forced labor, also known as Modern Slavery – slavery must never exist. None the less, it exists right now as you read this, and one out of every 130 girls on the planet is exploited, also in the fashion industry. This can happen in sweatshops like the one former child laborer Nasreen Sheikh experienced; watch her Real Talk here. The brand Outland Denim is a leading agent that is trying to use fashion to try and solve some of the industry’s social issues . Learn more about their approach here.
9. Industry, innovation and infrastructure
The fashion industry represents an often un-transparent supply chain with many links. The manufacturing of products creates 60% of the fashion industry’s emissions and another 20% is generated in the handling and distribution by brands and retailers. Sustainable solutions are key, such as cutting down on transportation to reduce CO2 emissions. You can’t improve what you don’t measure, so Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC) developed the Higg Index – a suite of tools that measure environmental and social impacts in the apparel, footwear, and textile industry. Realising that we don’t have time to wait for regulations, fashion e-retailer Zalando will not partner with brands that are not living up to the HIGG Index by 2023. Watch this conversation between Zalando’s Kate Heiny and SAC’s Executive Director, Amina Razvi, to learn about standardising sustainability.
10. Reduced inequalities
The COVID-19 crisis has shed an ugly light on the inequalities within the fashion industry. The weakest link of the chain is proven to be the workers in the garment industry; with two out of five losing their job due to cancelling of orders, withheld payments and poor or non-existing social security nets. Global Fashion Agenda is putting emphasis on the importance of equal partnerships; the need of which is expressed in these two interviews with respectively TAL Apparel President and CTO, Delman Lee, and Denim Expert Ltd Managing Director and Bangladesh Apparel Exchange Founder and CEO, Mostafiz Uddin.
11. Sustainable cities and communities
SDG 11 focus on making cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable. Since the fateful Rana Plaza Factory collapse of 2013, where 1,134 textile factory workers died, fashion brands have increasingly shifted their focus on the structures where people make their clothing. No longer can working conditions remain a secondary concern, as the tragic accident unfortunately demonstrated. Among others, TAL Apparel leads the way with their award-winning manufactory building in Vietnam. Read more here.
12. Responsible consumption and production It is important that sustainable fashion consumption is facilitated to make sure the consumer gets access to circular fashion models through ways such as renting, recycling or resale. To ensure sustainable production patterns, Global Fashion Agenda initiated the 2020 Commitment, where the fashion industry committed to four different action points: 1) Implementing design strategies for cyclability. 2) Increasing the volume of used garments and footwear collected. 3) Increasing the volume of used garments and footwear resold. 4) Increasing the share of garments and footwear made from recycled post-consumer textile fibres. You can learn more and find the reports of the 2017-2020 project here. In 2020 Global Fashion Agenda, Reverse Resources and BGMEA initiated the Circular Fashion Partnership (CFP) in collaboration with P4G. The partnership facilitates collaborations between major global fashion brands, textile and garment manufacturers and recyclers in Bangladesh (2021) to develop and implement new systems to capture and direct post-production fashion waste back into the production of new fashion products. Learn more about CFP here.
13. Climate action
Climate changes due to increased CO2 emissions primarily strike the already vulnerable countries with natural disasters such as severe drought, fires, floodings and hurricanes. In effect it often strikes the global South (which is arguably the least responsible for the climate change), causing hunger, death, devastated homes, or the need of migration. To opt for climate justice, the fashion industry must lead change. The fashion industry’s imprint on the climate equals that of UK, France and Germany combined: 4% of the world’s CO2 emissions. If we continue on our current path, we will miss our 2030 emissions reduction targets by 50%, leading to accelerated global warming. Read more in the Fashion on Climate report (2020) made by Global Fashion Agenda and McKinsey & Company and learn how the industry can change the negative development to the better – AND save money.
14. Life below water
By polluting the oceans with items such as chemicals from garment dyeing and handling or polyester that sheds microfibres when washed, and by contributing to global warming, the fashion industry contribute to the destruction of sea life. But the fashion industry is also turning parts of the problem into new, innovative solutions. Companies like Parley for the Oceans recycles sea plastic into products like this track suit by Jide Osifeso.
15. Life on land
The fashion industry must work to protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, halt and reverse land degradation and prevent biodiversity loss. Overproduction and unsustainable production methods have a severe and negative impact on the planet’s biodiversity, but the industry has a strong desire to change this for good. One of the measures leading this change is The Fashion Pact (established 2019). Learn more about the Pact here and watch this video explainer on biodiversity.
16. Peace, justice and strong institutions
SDG 16 is about promoting peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels. The fashion industry along with any other industry must move towards a more inclusive environment, regardless of sex, age, race, or disabilities. Listen to Korina Emmerich’s Real Talk on behalf of indigenous people or to this 1:1 conversation between Samata Pattinson and Omoyemi Akerele.
17. Partnerships for the goals
To reach all of the 17 SDG’s we need to strengthen the means of implementation and revitalise global partnership for sustainable development. For Global Fashion Agenda, the solution for the fashion industry is to redesign value. We believe it is possible to have a both prosperous and sustainable business; growth should not be the most important measure. To learn more about Redesigning Value, watch this video explainer.