Let's start the year by debunking on of the most repeated lines I've heard in the last two years. Namely: that fashion is the second most polluting industry in the world.


When I was preparing to give a guest lecture in December about natural dyes I wanted to get my facts straight once and for all. I was looking for a reliable source that stated why and if the fashion industry is the second largest polluter worldwide, after oil. I wanted to let the students put the 5 largest polluting industries in order of significance, like the experiment Stacey Dooley did in the BBC documentary Stacey Dooley investigates fashion. But I couldn't find any source of information to back this fact up.

There's no doubt that there's a lot of crucial work to be done in the fashion industry, fashion and apparel is responsible for great environmental impact in terms of pollution and waste, health hazards and modern slavery.

Let's put the facts back into fashion

That's why I was relieved that Vanessa Friedman wrote an article in the New York Times that summed up all the info that led to this misconception. As it seems, the confusion started when people took information from a report by The World Bank and left out half of the information. In The Bangladesh Responsible Sourcing Initiative report from 2014 the World Bank writes: "Some studies suggest that the treatment and dyeing of textiles is responsible for up to one fifth of industrial water pollution globally, including through the emission of some 72 toxic chemicals reaching the water supply from textile dyeing." For these number they reference the source “Water Pollution.” ECO 360 Trust, Institute for Sustainable Communication: But sadly, this page is no longer available.

Another study that suggests the same is "Textile dyeing industry an environmental hazard", but the sources cannot be verified online.

So the exact number is quite hard to determine.

The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) in India released a new categorisation of industries based on their pollution load in 2016. The MoEFCC has developed the criteria of categorisation of industrial sectors based on the Pollution Index which considers emissions (air pollutants), effluents (water pollutants), hazardous wastes generated and consumption of resources.

The Pollution Index (PI) of any industrial sector is a number from 0 to 100 and the increasing value of PI indicates the increasing degree of pollution load from that industrial sector. The worst polluting industrial sectors - having a Pollution Index score of 60 and above - fall into the Red category. It's safe to say that the fashion & textile industry is one of the most polluting industries because the industrial sectors "Paints varnishes, pigments", "Dyes and Dye- Intermediates", "Yarn/Textile processing", "Tanneries", "Synthetic fibers" all fall in the Red category. 



If you want reliable resources with facts and figures about the current state of the fashion industry, these are the go to reports:

If you want to learn more about fashion & sustainability I can recommend the free online course Fashion and Sustainability: Understanding Luxury Fashion in a Changing World by The London College of Fashion (UAL) and Kering on Future Learn. 

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