Sustainable Systems Week 5 Reflection

Since my major is fashion design, I decided to read the entire Material Diversity packet thoroughly. I want to know as much as possible about the pros and cons of different fibers and materials so I can design sustainably in the future. But as the packet says, improvement on materials will not facilitate a significant change in the fashion industry. People cannot have a single frame approach and must attack the life cycle at all levels. I had no idea that the laundry phase has the most negative impact. It’s weird that the laundry phase doesn’t get a lot of attention even though it’s one of the only parts of the cycle that humans have control over. Why isn’t more awareness raised? I really hope there will be some innovations in either laundry machines and detergent or the quality of the clothes themselves so they don’t have to be washed as frequently.

Cotton and polyester are the most produced fibers accounting for 85% of world fibre production. It’s like a double edged sword because each fibre affects the world differently. While cotton uses way more water and pesticides, polyester uses almost twice the energy as cotton in its production. Both pollute the water and air through their emissions. One stat that really stood out to me about cotton was that the amount of land dedicated to growing cotton has not changed in 80 years but the output of cotton has tripled. Instead of spreading out the pesticides over more land, they just increased the amount on the land they already had. It’s clear that people know the negative effects of pesticides (on soil, water, and health), which is why they would rather contaminate one space as much as they can before contaminating more land. It reminds me of a game of musical chairs. Another stat that stood out to me was that in Central Asia, about 60% of water is lost in the process because of poor infrastructure. Water is a finite resource. The production of cotton already uses an extremely large amount of water for what it produces so wasting even more water because of lack of technique is a real problem. Unfortunately I don’t think there are any laws in asia about who can produce cotton. There probably aren’t any checks to see how much water is being wasted and if the production is being done sustainably. Everybody seems to choose convenience and efficiency over everything. Another material that has a flawed production process is wool. The dirt and grease needs to be cleaned by water before manufacturing the wool. The “scouring” of wool produces a wool grease sludge that has a high pollution index. In addition, about 45% of the material is lost during this phase. This is another case of the fashion industry needing stricter treatment protocols. If a factory/farm is unable to use the techniques that waste the least, then they shouldn’t be allowed to produce.

Every material seems to have a different effect on the environment whether its through water, air, waste, or toxins. Viscose is pretty cool because it is carbon neutral (gives as much as it takes), but it’s emissions from air to water is extremely polluting. As I read this it feels like every material that doesn’t pollute in one area pollutes in another. Whether it’s emissions to water, emissions to air, or pesticide use, every fiber has a downside. What I am taking away from this is that we can’t choose the perfect material because there isn’t one yet. What we can do is choose a sustainable material and then continue to make sustainable choices during the rest of the production process since the use and disposal phases have the biggest impacts.

It’s so awesome to read about Puma’s “Environmental Profit and Loss Account” initiative. By analyzing their environmental impact across the entire supply chain, they can pick out which steps are the most wasteful and that can be improved. What if every company made their environmental impact transparent. There is an episode of Black Mirror where everyone has a points or rating system out of 10 based on how good of a citizen they are. Good deeds bring up the point rating and bad deeds bring it down. The episode shows why this system is a terrible idea for humans but I think it could work with corporations. I think we would see a massive change in good practices if every corporation was under surveillance and had a point system based on waste, treatment of workers, etc. There should be a minimum rating you must have to be able to produce clothing. The corporations with high ratings should also receive benefits for their efforts. Yes it’s true that some people today choose whether or not to buy from a company based on its practices, but most of the time morality is overlooked. I still buy Nike even though they have mistreated their workers in the past. The point is that humans can’t be trusted to boycott. I think government should intervene and implement a points system that companies would have to abide by.

I was very surprised by some of the stats for organic production. Despite the fact it dramatically drops the toxicity of materials, a 2011 study showed that organic cotton only makes up 0.7% of the total cotton market. I wonder how much the environment would benefit from even a 10% increase. After reading about more organically grown materials, it seems that the industry is hesitant to transition because the organic process takes longer, is more expensive, and is labour intensive. These are all things that fast fashion can’t afford. We need to change our consumption tendencies. If we didn’t buy so much companies wouldn’t feel the need to make so much. Another problem with organic production is the quality is not as good as manufactured. Both the strength of the fibers and the receptiveness to dying. This is where the next generation of designers and scientists need to come in to find the right combinations so that we can transition to organic production without sacrificing quality.

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