Life Cycle Assessment in the Fashion Industry
by Dr. Subramanian Senthilkannan Muthu | Nov 01, 2022
The blog series by Dr Subramanian Senthilkannan Muthu, PhD in Environmental Life Cycle Assessment is divided into three parts. The first part Dr. Muthu responds to the critique of LCA and explains the role of LCA in the fashion industry.
THE IMPACT OF FASHION
Fashion industries have come to the spotlight by contributing to global environmental and social issues for the last two to three decades. The decrease in the price of apparel and faster trend cycles coupled with low quality and planned obsolescence has increased the volume of clothes consumed globally. There are significant issues with apparel waste as most clothing and textile waste ends up in landfills instead of being recycled or reused. Some recent studies reveal that the fashion industry is responsible for 10% of humanity’s carbon emissions and if the fashion sector continues on its current trajectory, the share of the carbon budget could jump to 26% by 2050.
Apparel is one of the most common products which a consumer buys frequently. The environmental impacts created by those must be known to the customers to alleviate them and to make right buying choices. Right from the raw material (fibre) to the finished product (apparel), manufacturing processes to produce apparels consume energy, water, chemicals and other resources and are responsible for various emissions. For instance, the dyeing process used for coloring apparels requires washing, which consumes enormous amounts of water, along with many chemicals and energy, which are creating a burden to our environment. In addition, these processes are performed in different factories in different parts of the world, which involve transportation at each stage and have significant environmental footprints owing to the amount of fuel used for traction of shipping containers. Therefore, as a consumer it is important to know the processes that apparel has gone through to shop responsibly and their corresponding footprints.
ABOUT LIFE CYCLE ASSESSMENT (LCA)
Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) has emerged as a leading tool to investigate the potential environmental impacts of all stages of a product’s life and drive sustainability decisions.
Based on the systematic life cycle (cradle to gate/grave) approaches, it aids stakeholders to compare products and processes, and identify hotspots in a product’s life cycle. The analysis simultaneously draws designers’, engineers’, and management’s attention towards improvement opportunities of energy and emission savings obtained while sourcing raw materials and manufacturing products. According to International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) 14044/40 standards, LCA should be carried out in four key phases: Goal and Scope definition, Life Cycle Inventory Analysis, Life Cycle Impact Assessment, and Life Cycle Interpretation LCA provides clear insights on how making fundamental changes in the supply chain (replaced with sustainable fibre or renewable energy source) can potentially lead to impact in another stage of the product’s life cycle. Calculation and communication of key environmental sustainability metrics improve an organization’s transparency, thus convincing consumers to make improved choices.
However, LCA may form flawed sustainability claims by using fabricated data or information. LCA’s are often used to compare two unparalleled alternative materials and products that can be misleading to make any claims. Such LCAs that obscure critical data and information can lead to Greenwashing. This must be avoided completely. Any life cycle assessment study must follow ISO 14040/44 standards and avoid greenwashing to the complete extent.
In light of this, Green Story follows the correct procedures and adopts robust methods to undertake LCA studies and avoid such flawed claims. See how we help our customers calculate and communicate the environmental impacts of their products.
QUESTIONS RAISED AROUND LCA
One recent article by Kat Banfi has alleged the estimations to be cooked as half-baked LCA. As Green Story has a vision to inform consumers and presents LCA results in a lucid manner with a user-friendly interface, one may question the methodology for estimations without knowing the meticulous procedures followed. However, all the assessments undertaken at Green Story are well documented with a detailed Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) report compliant with ISO 14040/44 standards.
To Be Continued
Stay tuned for next week as Dr. Muthu talk about in detail on Green Story’s LCA methodology and robust approach to ensuring data accuracy.
Register for Green Story’s Webinar
Join our Chief Sustainability Officer Dr Subramanian Senthilkannan Muthu, PhD and Katina Boutis, Director of Sustainability at Everlane on Wednesday November 9th at 4pm (CET) as they discuss the use and misuse of data in fashion’s sustainability claims and the role LCA plays in measuring the environmental impact of fashion. Register here
Green Story can help
At Green Story, our mission is to empower 1 billion consumers to know their impact and make choices that are better for the planet and the generations to come. We’ll help you quantify and visualize your environmental impact, make accurate claims about the sustainability of your products, and offset your emissions through verified carbon credits. We’ll also make sure your customers are along for the journey by telling your sustainability story in ways your consumers can easily grasp, integrating your story into every aspect of your communications, and achieving market-wide buy-in for your sustainability mission.
About Dr. Subramanian Senthilkannan (Kannan) Muthu, Ph.D.
Dr. Kannan Muthu is the Chief Sustainability Officer at Green Story and widely regarded as the foremost expert in textile Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) in the world.
Prior to Green Story, he led the Environmental Services Division-Asia of SGS and was head of Sustainability of SgT Group. With a PhD in Environmental Life Cycle Assessment in Textiles and Clothing, Dr. Muthu is a Textile Technologist and has published 140 scientific books and 100 research articles. He has over 12 years of experience in environmental and chemical sustainability and has worked with hundreds of factories and international leading brands’ supply chains. His body of work makes him one of the most respected and widely quoted figures in the field of LCA.