Buy organic clothing for the health of our planet; wear organic clothing for your health. The reality and perils of global warming have finally broken through the walls surrounding mainstream collective consciousness and have become hot news. Recently, we were contacted by a journalist working on an article for Time magazine about Global Warming wanting to know if organic clothing could help reduce global warming. Conventional news stories about global warming generally fail to recognize that global warming is just one of several serious symptoms of a dangerously dysfunctional family relationship between industrialized and industrializing peoples and their Mother Earth. Global warming is caused by pollution of the Earth’s air. Other symptoms of this dysfunctional relationship include pollution of the Earth’s waters in our oceans, rivers and ground waters; pollution of the Earth’s agricultural lands with toxic pesticides, herbicides and insecticides; and destruction by clear cutting of life-giving ecosystems such as rainforests and old growth forests.
So, what would be the impact on Global Warming if everyone stopped buying conventional chemical clothing and gradually replaced their worn out conventional clothing with pure organic clothing? Minor. The raising and production of organic natural fibers and their manufacturing into fabric and apparel would have a small impact on improving Global Warming. All the hazardous and toxic chemicals involved in conventional cotton clothing contributes hugely to poisoning our planet’s agricultural lands, turning ground water and rivers into potentially carcinogenic waste waters, causing the deaths of tens of thousands of agricultural workers worldwide, encouraging the social pollution of sweatshops, and aggravating chemical sensitivities and health problems in a growing number of people wearing conventional chemical clothing.
Causes of global warming: Global warming is generally defined as the gradual increase in average temperatures of the earth’s land, oceans and air near the surface of the earth. While the global average temperature increase during the last 50 years might seem small – only about one degree Fahrenheit – the rate of increase is accelerating and the consequences have already been significant and alarming. Melting glaciers and polar ice caps, changes in the ocean’s ecosystems, emerging changes to global precipitation patterns, growth of more extreme weather patterns including hurricanes, tornados and droughts are all harbingers of changes to our earth due to global warming.
The vast majority of scientists now agree that this accelerating trend toward global warming is largely caused by a rise in anthropogenic (man-made) greenhouse gases (GHG), most notably carbon dioxide (CO2) from the burning of fossil fuels such as oil and coal and from methane (CH4). Other major greenhouse gases are nitrous oxide (N2O), hydrofluorocarbons (HFC), perfluorocarbons (PFC) and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6). Methane is a primary component of natural gas and often found in natural gas fields associated with oil fields and other hydrocarbon fuels. Significant quantities of methane are also produced as a biogas resulting from the fermentation of organic matter in wastewater sludge, municipal garbage dumps and livestock operations. Livestock – cattle, sheep, pigs and chickens – produce an estimated 37% of all “human-induced” anthropogenic methane. Carbon dioxide and methane are called greenhouse gases because they act like a blanket and help trap heat in the near-earth atmosphere thus causing air temperatures to rise and create an effect like the cover of a greenhouse. All plants and especially rainforests convert carbon dioxide to oxygen and are part of Nature’s delicate eco-balance that has been disrupted by deforestation from clear cutting forests for agriculture and to produce lumber for building supplies.
The Garment Industry and Global
Warming: The textile and garment
industries share in contributing to Global Warming from the growing of fibers
through manufacturing through distribution and transportation of clothing to
stores and customers through energy guzzling Laundromats and conventional dry
cleaners and finally ending in mountains of discarded clothes and last year’s
fashions rotting in landfills. Here is a
partial list of the ways that the clothing, garment and textile industries
contribute to global warming and environmentally-friendly green steps that can
be taken to reduce the impact to global warming. We’ll work our way through the clothing
product lifecycle from beginning to end.
- Animal flatulence and belching. Sheep, alpaca, llamas and other
wool-bearing animals contribute to the production of methane gas, a major
greenhouse gas, although the largest agricultural methane contributor is beef
cattle. Carbon dioxide contributes to an
estimated 9% – 26% of the global greenhouse gas effect and methane contributes
to approximately 4% – 9% but the rate of concentration of methane gas is
growing about four times as fast as carbon dioxide and livestock – primarily
cattle, sheep and pigs – are major contributors to the rate of growth of
methane in the earth’s atmosphere. Bovine biologists report that the average cow belches and passes about
600 liters of methane gas each day. Farm
animals produce about 20% of the methane greenhouse gas that is released each
year into the atmosphere.
Green Steps: New Zealand tried but abandoned a “flatulence tax” on livestock. Livestock scientists are working on dietary supplements, vaccines and genetic changes that could reduce the amount of methane produced by microbes in livestock digestive tracts. The single, most effective step that people can take to reduce animal-produced methane gas would be to stop eating meat – beef, lamb and pigs. If you can’t go cold turkey, go meatless in your diet just one or two days a week.
We are not advocating that you avoid natural fiber wool clothing. Naturally produced wool fabrics from organically and lovingly raised sheep and alpaca have a smaller carbon footprint than conventional cotton apparel. A growing number of natural wool co-ops such as Prairie Wools in Kansas and Cornish Organic Wool in the UK are offering exquisite wool garments and actively working to be part of the green solution by promoting eco-friendly grassland management and humane treatment of all wool-bearing creatures.
- Agricultural tractors and
trucks. The growing and harvesting
of natural fibers such as cotton and hemp generally use farm tractors and
trucks which run on non-renewable fossil fuels of diesel and gasoline that pour
black smoke and carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
Green Steps: Support legislation and policies to encourage the agricultural use of bio-fuels and the creation of fuel efficiency and emissions standards for farm tractors and trucks.
- Processing and manufacturing of
fibers. The manufacturing of some
fibers into fabric is more energy intensive than other fibers. Petroleum-derived synthetic fibers like
polyester and nylon and the “natural” man-made fibers such as lyocell and rayon
generally require additional energy to cook and reduce wood pulp into the
liquid solution that is forced through spinnerets to become a fiber for
Green Steps: All manufacturing processes and the manufacturing facilities must be designed from the ground up to meet sustainability requirements. Issues of sustainability, global warming and environmental protection and stewardship can not be adequately retrofitted to old, antiquated manufacturing plants.
- Pesky plastic packages. Clothing – including organic and
sustainable clothing – is often packaged for shipping and sale in individual plastic
bags which are made from non-renewable petrochemicals. Annually in the United States, we convert about one
billion barrels of oil into plastic. This converts to about 200 pounds of plastic for every person in the U.S. each year
and roughly 60% of this plastic is used for packaging – a significant percent
is used to package clothing. Most of
this non-renewable resource is trucked to local landfills after one use.
Green Steps: If your clothing retailer packages their clothing in plastic, suggest that they use recycled tissue to wrap their clothing. With care, there really isn’t any reason to individually package clothing in plastic.
- Bad Shipping News. The transportation of clothing from
manufacturers to distributors to retail stores to customers depends upon a
global fleet of trucks, planes and ships. Much of the cotton produced in the U.S. is shipped to garment factories in China where it is manufactured into clothing that is then shipped back to the U.S. Just think of all the carbon emissions
created for that cheap tee shirt.
Green Steps: Just as the mantra for organic food shopping is “Grow Locally”, you should seek out organic and sustainable clothing that is manufactured in the U.S.
The high cost of clean. Growing, manufacturing and shipping are
only the beginning of the effects that clothing has on Global Warming. The consequences of laundering and maintaining
your wardrobe are significant. A study
titled “Well Dressed?” by the Institute For Manufacturing at Cambridge
University on sustainable clothing discovered that 60% of the greenhouse gases
generated over the life of a simple tee shirt come from the typical 25 washings
and machine dryings. The carbon
emissions created to generate the electricity used to wash clothing in warm
temperature water and warm temperature tumble dryers exceeds the carbon
emissions created during the growing, manufacturing and shipping of clothing. And this doesn’t include the electricity
needed to iron clothing … especially cotton clothing which wrinkles simply by
looking at it cross-eyed.
Green Steps: Set washing machine temps on warm or cold with a cold rinse and then hang on a line to dry. Reducing the temperature wash setting from hot to warm and from warm to cold reduces the amount of energy hugely. If you absolutely can not live without a clothes tumble dryer (and we all know who we are), then set the temperature at a lower setting and remove clothes from the dryer while they are still slightly damp. Using energy is not a bad thing; using energy that is generated from coal burning carbon emitting generators is a problem. As much as possible, use and support renewable energy sources.
To the dump. Millions of tons of clothing are tossed
each year into garbage landfills where they rot and produce methane gas which
is one of the by-products from the decomposition of organic materials. A major driving force to stuff landfills with
used clothes is the “fast fashion” industry. Fast fashion is the trend to produce low cost, low quality, quickly
changing fashion trends that can change several times in a single season. Low cost, mass market companies such as Old
Navy, Target and Wal-Mart carefully target young, budget-conscious clothes hogs
who load their shopping carts with the latest cheap clothing in the very latest
colors and styles. When the next latest
new trend appears in a couple months or, Heaven forbid!, a small hole appears
in that too cute Smocked
Babydoll Tank Top in Spunk Yellow from Mossimo Supply Co. at Target’s for
$8.99 just chuck it out. I mean, it
costs less than a movie ticket. Of
course, at this price it probably was made in a sweatshop.
Green Steps: Consumers of all ages must become aware that cheap, fast fashion comes at a very high cost to the environment and to exploited garment workers around the world. Recycling must become a pillar of our consumer culture … especially in the U.S. where the recycling rate of household waste is less than 5%. In England, families recycle about 9% of their household garbage (including discarded clothing), in Holland it is 30%, and in Switzerland it is 57%. Recycling is a critical component of sustainability. All product designers, including fashion designers, must design sustainability and recyclability into all products beginning with the selection of materials and manufacturing processes. Think green clothing, sustainable clothing, recycled clothing.
Commercializing global warming in the fashion and clothing industry. The popularity of global warming as a news topic has put marketing and advertising brain stems into hyper drive. Diesel, the hip and provocative Italian clothing design and manufacturing company, has launched their Global Warming Ready collection. Diesel ads show lightly clothed young models frolicking in easily recognizable tourists locations that have succumbed to global warming – three chic hipsters lounging on a park bench surrounded by tropical vegetation and palm trees with the Eiffel Tower in the background; a shirtless young man wearing Diesel jeans laying on a beach reading with the Mt. Rushmore presidents in the background with ocean waters up to their nostrils; a skimpy bikini and swimsuit couple making friendly on a rocky, iceless Antarctic beach with penguins all around. To deflect some of the exploitation criticism, Diesel is one of many companies partnering with StopGlobalWarming.org to get people involved in fighting global warming.
Not all fashion marketing campaigns touching on global warming are targeted at the edgy selfishness of affluent young shoppers. For each product purchased at their store, Tropic Joe’s Store offers to plant one tree in a Costa Rica reforestation project. According to the Carbonfund.org, “the typical American is responsible for 10 tons of CO2 emissions annually through their direct energy use of home, cars and air travel, and about 24 tons of CO2 including their purchases, activities and the other services we all share throughout the economy.” To offset this and make each person carbon neutral would require the planting of 27 trees each year according to the Tropical Sierra Foundation, the nonprofit environmental side of Tropic Joe’s Stores.
Trees are hugely beneficial in absorbing and reducing CO2 from the atmosphere. The ravaging of forests, especially tropical and rainforests, for grasslands to raise beef cattle and raise crops has contributed heavily to global warming. Unfortunately, rainforests typically have very shallow top soil which quickly erodes during heavy rains leaving the once-lush forest lands barren and useless. This is an unfathomable waste driven by shortsighted greed and ignorance. Congrats to Tropic Joe’s Store for their efforts. I would love to hear how many trees they have helped plant and the effectiveness of their reforestation program.
Organic clothing and eco-fashion have also been used as enticements to join organizations. The mission of the One Ton CO2 Project is to educate everyone on how to “conserve the natural resources you use, reduce your environmental impact, and then offset your remaining carbon dioxide footprint.” Rather than planting trees like Tropic Joe, the One Ton CO2 Project takes the angle of purchasing carbon dioxide credits from the Chicago Climate Exchange (CCX). According to a spokesperson at LiveItGreen.com which runs the One Ton CO2 Project, they purchase 100 tons of credits at a time. The current price for a ton of CO2-equivalent credits is about $3.65 but the price fluctuates so roughly $3.65 of the $28 purchase price of the organic cotton tee shirts sold for the One Ton CO2 Project goes to purchase the credit for one ton of CO2.
Carbon dioxide offsets are an interesting green shell game. Individuals and companies can “offset” or trade the carbon emissions that they produce by driving their SUVs or by generating electrical power from dirty coal with credits that other companies have received from reducing their carbon emissions or by undertaking projects such as reforestation projects or renewable energy projects. This allows people to become carbon neutral by purchasing someone else’s reduced greenhouse gas good karma … kinda like paying monks to say prayers for you while you continue with your good living lifestyle.
A handful of for-profit and non-profit companies and organizations such as Climate Trust, Sustainable Travel International, and NativeEnergy, deal in carbon dioxide offsets, but the largest is the Chicago Climate Exchange. Carbon dioxide offsets basically work like this: a company registers their company with the Chicago Climate Exchange and commits to reducing their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions below their baseline by 6% by the year 2010. The Chicago Climate Exchange sends an independent auditor to establish a baseline of the company’s current greenhouse gas emissions of:
- Carbon dioxide (CO2),
- Methane (CH4),
- Nitrous oxide (N2O – used as an aerosol spray propellant and produced by bacteria in livestock operations),
- Sulfur hexafluoride (SF6 – produced for use in some electrical and manufacturing processes),
- Perfluorocarbons (PFC – used in refrigeration units and fire extinguishers),
- Hydrofluorocarbons (HFC – a fluorocarbon emitted as a by-product during industrial manufacturing)
The CCX-registered company is then issued Carbon Financial Instrument (CFI) contracts equal to the company’s targeted reduced GHG emissions. The company is issued one Carbon Financial Instrument contract for each 100 metric tons of CO2 or carbon dioxide-equivalent in the case of the other five greenhouse gases. These CFIs can then be traded, bought and sold on the Chicago Climate Exchange.
Another variant on the theme to link global warming and carbon offsets with organic and natural clothing is the Carbon Neutral Certification tm program from Live It Green which certifies that selected clothing of participating clothing manufacturers and retailers have “been rendered carbon neutral by planting trees to counteract the calculated environmental impact of its manufacture.” This program from Live It Green recognizes that almost all clothing creates an adverse ecological footprint and that we must find ways to offset the inevitable greenhouse gas emissions caused by the growing of fibers, manufacturing of fabrics, and their transport and distribution to consumers.
And finally, apparel manufacturers and retailers are beginning to suspect that changing weather patterns will affect consumer buying. Recent warmer winters have reduced consumer demand for heavy winter coats and shortened the cold weather apparel buying season. Layering has moved from being a fashion trend to becoming a sensible strategy for dealing with more changeable and extreme weather. Average temperatures on the East Coast during the 2006 holiday season were 15 degrees warmer than the previous holiday season which cut deeply into sales of winter coats, hats and gloves. Manufacturers and retailers are starting to obsess over long trend weather reports and how to respond to a “Global Warming Christmas.”
This isn’t all that we have to say about global warming, organic and recycled clothing, and the apparel industry but it’s enough for now. Please let us know of your thoughts and insights.