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Here’s Everything You Need to Know about Sustainable Development Goals

The Sustainable Development Goals, set by the United Nations, are a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity. Ahead, we explore the many ways in which they relate to the fashion industry and why they matter.

Key Takeaways: 

What are the UN SDGs?

Back in 2015, the United Nations created a set of Sustainable Development Goals with the hopes to achieve them by 2030. The agenda outlines 17 goals that are designed to address challenges faced globally, and serve as a blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all. 

But, what role does fashion play in all this?

The fashion industry impacts us all by the sheer fact that we all wear clothes. Fashion is interlinked with so many industries; right from agriculture to chemicals, transportation to travel, and beyond. The industry has always had an underestimated influence on gender equality, labour, poverty — not to mention, a considerably high impact on the environment. In many ways, fashion covers several of the 17 UN SDGs, and in order to achieve sustainable progress, the industry has to collectively work hard at addressing the following issues;

Goal #1: No Poverty

The rise of mass-produced fast fashion over the last two decades has heavily relied on low-cost labour to meet increasing demand for cheap and trendy clothes. In a country like Bangladesh, which is home to 4 million garment workers, many of them earn only a little more than the government-mandated minimum wage: only 8,000 taka (less than $100) per month. According to fair-wage campaigners, workers can only live comfortably if they were paid double the amount.

Goal #5: Gender Equality

The garment industry employs more than 60 million workers globally, of which approximately 80% are women, who are often subjected to labour exploitation and sexual harassment. A recent index by the World Benchmarking Alliance (WBA)’s Gender Benchmark showed that nearly two-thirds of the top 35 apparel brands have not backed gender equality and women’s empowerment publicly, while only 14 firms have implemented gender-specific policies. 

Goal #12: Responsible consumption and production

To say that the fashion industry discards more than it consumes would be an understatement. Worldwide, an estimated 92 million tonnes of clothing waste is created each year and the equivalent to a garbage truck full of them ends up in landfills every second. By 2030, we are expected as a whole to be discarding more than 134 million tonnes of textiles annually. 

Goal #13: Climate action

Research by McKinsey shows that fashion was responsible for some 2.1 billion metric tons of greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions in 2018, which accounts for 4% of the global total. To put that into perspective, the fashion industry emits about the same quantity of annual emissions as the entire economies of France, Germany, and the United Kingdom combined. To stay below the 1.5º C limit set by the Paris agreement, fashion would need to cut its emissions to 1.1 billion metric tons of CO2 equivalent by 2030.

Goal #14: Life below water  

Textiles have a larger impact on oceans and marine life than can be imagined. Recent research has found that the Arctic is “pervasively” polluted by microplastic fibres that shed into our waterways while washing synthetic clothes. By 2050, the amount of plastic microfibres entering our oceans could pile up to an excess of 22m tonnes if the issue isn’t addressed.

Goal #15: Life on land

We rely on biodiversity for food, air, water, soil and the role it plays in regulating climate change. However, the textile industry has been largely responsible for the role it plays in soil degradation and waterway pollution. Fabrics like cotton account for 90% of all-natural fibres used globally, but have the most devastating effect on soil due to its high pesticide dependence during the cultivation stage. Whereas, the Aral Sea in Central Asia has shrunk to just 10% of its previous volume, mainly due to irrigation for cotton farming alone.


Published by: Vibhuti Vazirani/ 2021-09-08

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