Future Green Label Needs to Tackle Plastic Pollution
Oct 28, 2020 by Vladislava Gospodinova
Under its current form, the Environmental Footprint initiative fails to fully address one of the crucial points of the environmental impact of products - plastic pollution. The negative effect of plastic pollution on humans, animals and ecosystems is not included in the PEF calculations and will not be communicated to the consumer, fear stakeholders engaging in the initiative. The European Environmental Bureau raised the issue back in 2018, after the end of the pilot phase. Currently, to measure the environmental footprint of a product from the raw material to the end-of-life, the PEF method is testing it against 16 impact categories ranging from climate change to the use of natural resources or toxicity. No category looks into whether the product causes plastic leakage. The Product Environmental Footprint initiative will pave the way for EU-wide legislation on the environmental performance of goods and organisations. The PEF profiles should enable companies to make legitimate environmental claims based upon evidence. But boiling down complex, multi-dimensional calculations to a single score that might be put on a label could turn out misleading. For example, if an essential pollutive feature of a product like plastic pollution is not considered, the information reaching the consumer will not provide a complete picture of the environmental cost of the product. Such oversimplification risks leaving consumers under the false impression that they are choosing the 'better-for-the-environment' product without knowing that some environmental impacts they care about are not considered. Failing to address the problem with plastics pollution in its major environmental initiative would undercut the Commission’s own efforts to tackle plastic waste as promised in the Circular Economy Action Plan and the Green Deal. Measuring plastics' environmental impact is typically not part of LCA assessments, because it remains challenging to track, measure and quantify the adverse effect of plastic leakage across supply chains. This means it is unlikely that plastic pollution would become an impact category before the legislation arrives. Yet, there is a solution. Plastic pollution can be included in the PEF studies under the so-called additional environmental information. Building on this information, law-makers could request that the plastic pollution risk be stated explicitly on the label alongside the PEF score. More than 5.5 million tons of synthetic microfibers have ended up in the environment since 1950 because of clothes being washed in machines, estimates researchers from Sciences et Avenir. Microplastics are found in ecosystems everywhere on the planet, and even in products for human consumption such as beer, honey and salt. Many see the involvement of consumers to be the key in the fight for a cleaner, resource-efficient, circular economy. But serving over-simplified information to consumers led by the desire to make it easy to choose the greener products carry a risk of leading to further confusion amongst consumers – a problem meant to be tackled by this environmental initiative in the first place.
Other Stories In This Issue
The Young and the Super Rich are Mainstreaming Slow Fashion
Oct 29, 2020 by Mick Madsen
Everybody has clothes they wear more than others for any number of reasons. Those reasons, however, are the key to a greener environment, because if consumers wear the clothes in circulation more often, it comes at the expense of resource-intensive production of new clothes, often most made from cheap, unsustainable materials. In the slow fashion, paradigm clothes have more value for consumers, who in turn tend to care more for the products. The global consumption of fast fashion is in no way in decline at current. On the other hand, changes are clearly underway, and it can be observed in the emergence of new circular startups, public debate, media, and a mountain of upcoming legislative frameworks addressing climate change and environment across the world. It can also be observed in today’s consumer behaviour: "Vintage, secondhand is massive. There is almost a new 'arts and crafts' movement taking place. People dig up the clothes of their grandmother to wear it. There is a search for something tactile, a connection with the things people own. It is not because the interest in textiles and garments is decreasing, but we want a deeper connection to the clothes we wear. That is a paradigm shift because you don’t have a deep connection with you clothes if you swap your wardrobe every six months," Johanne Stenstrup, Danish author, podcast host and sustainable fashion activist, said.
At the tipping point of mainstreamDuring her presentation at the Sustainable Fur Forum’s event on 29 September, she talked about the emergence of circular business models and the fast-growing secondhand market. All things that point to a market, however not yet a mainstream market. So how far are we from the tipping point? "I’ll say we are just short of 10 per cent. Within trend research, they say that when 12-15 per cent of a population do something, it tips over and becomes mainstream. That’s the tipping point between being a first-mover trend to becoming mainstream. I’ll say slow fashion is very close to becoming mainstream," Johanne Stenstrup said. Part of the paradigm shift is driven by the climate striking youth, who opposes the way their parents have been buying clothes. The other key driver of sustainable fashion is the super-rich, who drive a real demand for traceability, clean raw materials, and sustainability, which is also visible in the hotel- and restaurant sectors. The greenest eco-hotels around are the luxury hotels. The most successful high-end restaurants are those who offer slow food concepts like farm-to-table, fermentation, and locally sourced ingredients. Likewise - although still lacking behind the development in the hotel- and restaurant businesses - it is the high-end luxury fashion brands who have been first to invest in sustainability within the fashion industry. "There is, of course, still demography which is in the market for bling and gold, but there is a real push for sustainability and traceability amongst the superrich. If you can buy anything in the world, you want to be sure things are in order," Johanne Stenstrup said.
Re-establishing our connection with clothesThe emotional value of our clothes is tied with storytelling that was somehow lost during the industrialization. The availability of cheap materials and the efficiency of the production had the consequence that repairment of our clothing slowly, but surely was replaced by the unsustainable ‘buy and throw away’ culture of today. "Capitalism and industrialization have worked to eliminate our connection to our clothing and identity since consumers have been told identity lies in the buying of something new. Now we are beginning to re-establish the connection with the textiles we surround ourselves with. Clothes with emotional value work as an anchor to who we are and are often found in homemade clothes or clothes people have owned for a long time. Our clothing is closely associated with storytelling about ourselves and our identity," Johanne Stenstrup said. However, the slow fashion paradigm is not only in the hands of trendsetting consumer groups but must be established in the interaction between consumers, manufacturers and legislators. Waste management is already high up on the political agenda, and if waste begins to come at a cost for the producers, waste management legislation is likely to push manufacturers further towards circular business models. "Companies have to look at their products more like a service. This can be a built-in repairment guarantee, or rental models, which I think is very interesting for fur- and leather products. It is business models, where you make an income on the same product several times, or provide services to the product throughout its lifetime," Johanne Stenstrup said.
Circular business modelsNatural fur has inherent circular qualities because of the material’s strong technical characteristics, and capability for biodegradation. These are qualities the fur sector can work actively with and potentially target new consumer groups. "Fur fits well into the circular economy, but some people have a problem with the animals. It fits with circularity to take responsibility for the second and third life of a product. Some consumers skip the first life of a product and go straight to buying upcycled clothing. This is a consumer group I think will grow bigger. They still want good design, and we can tell that new design with old materials is very much in demand right now," Johanne Stenstrup said.
Nobody Cared About Clothing’s Lifetime. That is About to Change
Oct 06, 2020 by Mick Madsen
How and why clothing is used is important to Ingun Grimstad Klepp. She is a research professor at Consumption Research of Norway (SIFO), and how clothing is used and interpreted by consumers is critical to its lifetime, which in turn is important to the environment. "I work to make lifetime more important. Nothing is better for improving environmental sustainability than a long lifetime. It makes a big difference. I think fur is an area where lifetime is crucial because the production itself has an impact, which relates to both environment and animal welfare. The longer time fur or other products stay in use, the easier it is to defend it," Ingun Klepp said. But while clothing life time currently is considered the most effective way to improve sustainability in clothing, it has been disturbingly absent from fashion’s sustainability debate, a debate that traditionally has had its focus on the production, while leaving the user-phase unexplored.
Benchmarking tools favouring syntheticsThis limited way of assessing sustainability in clothing seems to be changing though, not least because both fashion sustainability experts and -NGOs with increasing success have put the fashion industry and its sustainability problems on the agenda over the past few years. Ingun Klepp is a part of this agenda-setting movement. In her research, she has targeted the blindside of the ‘Higg Materials Sustainability Index’ and ‘Made-by Environmental Benchmark for Fibres’, two widely used benchmarking tools for comparing the environmental impact of different fibres. Both tools, however, work without including the user-phase. Effectively this ends up favouring synthetic materials over natural materials, which have higher environmental costs at the material production stage. However, comparing the environmental impact of textile fibres while leaving out the user-phase amounts to comparing apples and oranges. It also fails to consider the significant environmental damage synthetic materials cause through microplastic pollution. Companies who produce fast fashion may not have an interest in including such measures in the various benchmarking tools for sustainability. Still, a part of the problem is also that the knowledge on both the user-phase of clothing and the extent and consequences of microplastic pollution is relatively low. "There are many things we know and many things we don’t know yet. The first thing that happens is companies say ‘we don’t know anything about the user-phase’. Then we must show it’s possible to include the user-phase. It is a necessary debate," Ingun Klepp said.
Different material, different user-phasesSo Ingun Klepp has conducted research that demonstrates it is possible to distinguish environmental impacts of different materials in the user-phase because clothes made of diverse fibres are maintained differently. For example, wool requires less energy and chemicals to be kept clean, compared to cotton. Cotton requires a more powerful wash, and often also uses energy for drying and wrinkle removal. Synthetic fabrics become dirty faster and are washed more frequently, which further speed up the release of microplastics. According to Ingun Klepp, Sustainable Apparel Coalition now works to incorporate the user-phase in their benchmarking tools. Up until now, clothing has not been the focus of the same political attention, for example, single-use products and –packaging, which however utilise the same non-renewable textiles as much fashion clothing. In other words, the clock is ticking on the fashion industry too. "EU and Norway are preparing waste management policies, but the world market for used textiles is decreasing, and just now it is about stagnant. This means waste must be handled locally, and waste reduction comes higher up on the agenda. Extended producer liability is already in the making around os. When producers are required to take responsibility for waste, lifetime becomes important," Ingun Klepp said. Her own research is, however, more focused on what happens with the clothes we buy - how is it actually used? Long clothing lifetime has little value to the environment if the clothes are not used as an alternative to buying new. Long lifetime could, for example, imply long periods of storage, which would often be the case for natural fur coats as they are typical winter garments. It is important to establish the relationship between actual use and lifetime because it is needed to establish the so-called functional units, which are used in LCAs and make comparisons possible and meaningful.
Show me your wardrobe ...How, and how much, clothing is actually used can be determined with the so-called wardrobe studies, a relatively new and still emerging research field, which through qualitative consumer interviews works to establish the pattern behind the - often unconscious – clothing choices people make every day. Understanding the user-phase of fur would also be relevant for the fur sector. It is particularly interesting because natural fur has the technical properties for a long lifetime, but the question is what happens to the fur throughout all this time? Ingun Klepp points out. She and other experts have been commissioned by the international wool industry to research the user-phase of wool garments on big consumer markets like China and Germany. "It is evident that user-phase is important to the wool industry. This can be used politically, and we have worked to demonstrate the user-phase for wool," Ingun Klepp said. Amongst other things this work has clarified, there are differences in the maintenance of different materials, which are important for the ultimate environmental impact of clothing. Equally important, understanding user-phase is an important part of improving your environmental footprint. "It is important to bring in a lifetime to LCA work because it can help to both improve and develop an industry," Ingun Klepp says. She stresses that when working with the environmental impact of an industry, it is important to assess the production across the entire value chain. Only the user-phase does still not have the position in environmental assessments it deserves, to provide a comprehensive and fact-based discussion over sustainability in clothing: Everything has a price, and we must be willing to discuss that price. I am for example of the opinion that we would have been better off if a global product like jeans were produced in half the numbers, but lasted twice as long", Ingun Klepp said. Photo credit: Sonja Balci / OsloMet
Political Support to Steer Mink Farming Through Corona Crisis
Oct 29, 2020 by Mick Madsen
Mink farmers in Denmark and The Netherlands have been hard hit by the global pandemic as mink have proven susceptible to SARS-CoV-2, and more than 200 mink farms in the two countries have been infected. While the Netherlands decided to compensate mink farmers, and accelerate an already existing decision to ban mink farming, there is broad political support in Denmark to help the industry through the crisis. In a meeting in the Environment and Food Committee 28 October, the Danish Minister for Environment and Food, Mogens Jensen, (the Social Democratic Party) said public health is of highest priority, but that does not mean the government are planning to close the mink production. On the contrary, the minister announced his willingness to work out forward-looking solutions in cooperation with the mink farmers, as well as other political parties. "There would be many industries we would have to close down in order to be sure there is no spread of the virus in society. The government has no plans to close mink farming," the minister said. A total of 166 mink farms have been infected by the coronavirus in Denmark since June. In late September the authorities changed their original isolation strategy to a culling strategy and decided to cull healthy farms within 7,8 kilometres of infected farms as a precautionary measure. This has led to massive criticism from both opposition parties and veterinary experts and coupled with the increasing number of infected farms. The culling strategy further led to the Danish Veterinary and Food Administration not having enough manpower to cull all the animals targeted by the strategy - perhaps as many as 6 million mink. Meanwhile, some of the infected mink farms have achieved herd immunity and developed antibodies. Danish research has revealed the virus no longer live on in the mink farm environment after 5-6 weeks, and the Danish mink farmers want to avoid culling healthy animals. Fur Europe Chairman John Papsø welcomed the government support to mink farming but said the short-term culling of healthy animals is inefficient and expensive. "It is a waste of resources to cull healthy animals, which are otherwise ready to be pelted and sold in 1-2 weeks. Public health must be the priority, but we all have to remember that Covid-19 is a global pandemic upheld by the human-to-human transmission of the virus," John Papsø said. Outside the mink farmer community, only four people in Danish society have been infected by a covid-19 strain from a mink farm. Looking into the next production season, John Papsø said solutions for mink farmers are likely to involve increased biosecurity and monitoring. Sweden, Italy and Spain have each had a mink farm infected by coronavirus as well.
Fur Debate: Circularity at the Center of Fur Production
Sep 29, 2020 by Helene Herman
The fur industry is a good example of circular production and should be an inspiration for the fashion world. That was one of the conclusions from the participants in the first Sustainable Fur Forum (SFF) webinar on 29 September. During the online event, four different speakers, including two MEPs and a sustainable fashion campaigner, discussed why circularity is an integral part of, and a priority for the fur sector. The outburst of Covid-19 exposed the flaws in the fast fashion system. When the shops started to close, clothing began piling up in warehouses, demonstrating the unsustainability of the model. During the lockdown, we lost two seasons, 30 drops and 210 days of fashion, said Johanne Stenstrup, author, entrepreneur and sustainable fashion campaigner. Consumers’ attitude towards their dressing changed, as they had time to reconnect with their clothes. "The future of fashion should be about our relationship with our clothes, the craftsmanship, the materials, and the people behind the production," she added. MEP Juozas Olekas (S&D, Lithuania), Chair of the SFF, pointed out that "fast fashion based on ‘produce-consume-dispose’ has to be replaced by a slow fashion model with a longterm vision for people and the environment." This transition needs the involvement of all actors, with a 360-degree approach. "If the European Union wants to be a global leader in achieving climate goals, fashion is certainly a good starting point," said Mr Olekas. The European Green Deal and Circular Economy Action plan (CEAP) are a historic opportunity for the European fashion sector to improve its performance and contribute to a green transition. The EU needs an ambitious and comprehensive Textile Strategy encompassing all fashion products, based on the hierarchy 'eco-design, reduce, repair, reuse, recycle, dispose of'. In this regard, the fur sector can be an inspiration for the fashion world. It is the perfect example of a circular production system with upcycling taking place throughout the value chain. Fur is a natural, biodegradable, long-lasting and reusable material. With proper care, fur garments can last for several decades. Mette Lykke Nielsen, CEO at Fur Europe, insisted on three essential elements that should be included in the EU Textile Strategy: boosting the reuse of garments, the traceability of supply chains and developing eco-design measures. Finally, MEP Pietro Fiocchi concluded that the fur sector should be treated equally as all the other livestock sectors because it is subject to the same European regulations. This will be further discussed during the next SFF webinar, which will address the future of animal welfare in the EU. For further information about the Sustainable Fur Forum, please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com firstname.lastname@example.org
VIDEO: People Behind Fur – Meet the Dressers & Dyers
Oct 21, 2020 by Vladislava Gospodinova
Taking about fur is not only talking about farming, selling or dressing. It is talking about a long chain made of people, made of passion, of experience and history. This is what makes fur special, says Roberto. He used to work in finances, but left his career to start working in a dressing and dyeing company in Italy. What made him leave a career to become a dresser of fur? Is he happy with the choices he made, and how difficult is it to work with your family? Check out the story of Roberto Tadini and get to know the people behind fur. For more stories like this head to PEOPLE BEHIND FUR