Fashion Industry Must Cut Emissions — Digital Fashion Can Help

The third and final climate assessment report released by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reported it’s “now or never” for industries to cut their emissions by half. To keep the planet livable and to meet the 2030 goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions, sustainability and reversing humanity’s impact on climate change is now top of mind.

“We know what to do. We know how to do it… We need to take action now … or 1.5 degrees will slip beyond reach,” said Jim Skea, co-chair of the IPCC report’s working group.

Fashion's Total Global Waste

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Production in the fashion industry accounts for nearly 10% of humanity’s carbon emissions, and an alarming amount of textiles end up in landfills every year. For the fashion industry to begin to halve its emissions, it will need to end wasteful practices. It could also mean meeting demand by embracing creative alternatives, like eco-friendly digital fashion, new programs, new materials, and virtual fashion shows.

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Fashion’s Emissions Problem

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The fashion industry contributes 4% to annual global waste. Due to fast fashion practices and high demand, clothes rapidly move in and out of style. Thus, perfectly-wearable clothes are tossed out, filling landfills.

On top of that, semi-annual events like New York Fashion Week (NYFW – February and September), create a significant adverse environmental impact from waste and transportation. An emblem and microcosm of the fashion industry, the NYFW shows come with a host of exorbitant accouterments and thousands and thousands of flights.

According to the 2020 “Zero to Market” report, the four major fashion weeks generated over 241,000 tons of CO2 emissions. This amount equals about the number of annual emissions for a small country or enough to power Times Square for 58 years. Travel to NYFW accounts for 37% of these emissions.

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Fashion’s Sustainability Efforts

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The fashion industry has made efforts to reduce its emissions. For example, in 2019, Sweden canceled its Stockholm Fashion Week altogether to explore more sustainable alternatives.

Brands like Burberry and Gucci have held carbon-neutral shows, while in 2020, sustainability was a major theme of designers’ recycled collections. Additionally, featuring vintage fashion on the runways as Denver Fashion Week and others have recently done generates more interest in “Slow Fashion.”

Outside of efforts during fashion week, consumers have also secured more promises from the industry to reduce supply chain and other emissions and invest in regenerative agriculture. Yet experts are clear that more is needed. And that could mean a wholesale reimagining of NYFW and the overall supply chain. This would entail setting bold goals, investing in solutions like regenerative farming, and more.

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The Need for a Totally New Model

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Many are calling on fashion and other industries to restructure business-as-usual before it’s too late, such as Urs Dieterich, Manager of the Land Use fund at the South Pole, which works to reduce supply chain emissions in fashion.

“We need to remodel the way things are grown and produced anyway because the current model doesn’t work anymore — so, why don’t we go back and set the system up, fundamentally, from the perspective of how it should be? That starts with a rights-based approach,” said Dieterich.

Crypto fashion is one piece of the puzzle that can help cut emissions.

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Done Right, Digital Fashion Can Reduce Emissions

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In the wake of both crypto’s banner 2021 year and the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s plenty of consumer demand for virtual market alternatives, and the growing digital fashion industry is no different. Morgan Stanley analysts project that the digital fashion industry could be worth $50 billion by 2030.

Brands like Gucci, Dolce and Gabbana, Burberry, and many more have already made millions in the digital fashion space. Other key names include tech innovators, like The Fabricant, Dress-X, and more.

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The Rise of Virtual Events

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Just as there are digital analogs to physical clothing, the world of Web3 offers virtual fashion events, including this year’s milestone virtual fashion week hosted by Decentraland.

This first-ever Metaverse Fashion Week (MVFW) took place from 24-27 March 2022 and was mostly regarded as a success overall. Over the four-day events, 60 different fashion brands, including Estée Lauder, Dolce & Gabbana, Bulova, and Tommy Hilfiger, showcased over 500 looks.

In addition, Decentraland hosted panels and runway shows that were free to the public and VIP events with tech demos and designer meets. While some hiccups arose, like the laggy, low-tech graphics, music glitches, and confusing user experience (UX), these are inevitable with a first-time innovative attempt.

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Environmental Cost of Crypto

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So, what is the environmental impact of swapping physical, synthetic materials for pixelated clothing?

Since digital asset wearables are produced electronically, there are no clothes filling landfills, and shipping across the world is almost instantaneous and box-free. Virtual metaverse events or conferences reduce gas and airplane emissions since it all happens right from your computer.

Yet digital clothing does have a carbon footprint to weigh in. This is because creating NFTs and powering virtual worlds takes energy, just like other kinds of crypto. Experts estimate that the carbon footprint of creating one NFT is equivalent to 2 months of electricity usage for one person.

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The Environmental Impact Is Varied

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But cryptocurrencies vary in terms of environmental impact, with many designed to be green. For example, coins like SolarCoin, Powerledger, and Cardano are carbon-negative and promote eco-friendly solutions, like solar energy.

Furthermore, digital fashion can allow for greater transparency into how clothing is manufactured. Feasibly, details recorded on the blockchain can clarify whether it produced an article of apparel sustainably and ethically.

Thus, sustainability-minded consumers can more easily make fashion purchases that align with their values and pressure other brands to follow suit.

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Amanda is a professional writer who is passionate about helping people share their vision with more audiences using SEO, data, and storytelling. She often writes about cryptocurrency, fintech, politics, and the law. Her background is in policy and research, with a degree from NYU and certifications from Harvard, Google, and more. When not writing, Amanda enjoys painting, dancing, and playing chess.