Former World Bank Analyst Decries Fashion’s Impact Miscalculation in Eco-Age Report

A new Eco-Age report decries fashion’s faulty math in calculating environmental impact.

Published publicly Tuesday, the white paper is the second in a series commissioned by Eco-Age dubbed “The Great Green Washing Machine,” highlighting the industry’s sustainability missteps. It is authored by independent consultant (and former World Bank financial analyst) Veronica Bates Kassatly and Dorothée Baumann-Pauly, director at the Geneva Center for Business and Human Rights at University of Geneva.

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The report highlights a series of concerns including: the limited scope of sustainability assessments, wrongful organic fiber claims, variations in existing sustainability studies and the overlooked impacts of polyester and microfibers.

At the start, this second white paper aims to demonstrate how fashion’s environmental impact is incorrectly assessed and limited in scope, arguing for cradle-to-grave carbon impact measurements, which include the full lifecycle of a garment — rather than the practice of cradle to gate (stopping at the retailer’s door).

The paper trails Eco-Age’s inaugural report published in September 2021, undermining fashion’s sustainability assertions on the grounds that they eclipse the livelihoods of “the most disadvantaged” farmers of the major agricultural (specifically cotton) sustainability programs.

Chastising assumptions on water use in cotton farming, blind spots related to farmer income, growing yields and biodiversity, and the “overlooked” impact of manure — the report aims to set straight misunderstandings of both sustainability and agriculture.

Along with a call for more all-encompassing measurement methods, the findings also point to the necessity of impact per wear over impact per kilo. Examples of garment wear data in practice can be seen from rental pioneer Rent the Runway, or the many emerging reseller footprints.

Assertions tie the paper to real-time regulatory moves: “In terms of their impact on the total number of times any given garment is worn, it would be inexcusable for the German Green Button, or the EU [Product Environmental Footprint, to which the Sustainable Apparel Coalition is the leading secretariat], to establish a consumer-facing labeling system that ignores these considerations.”

“Pending more comprehensive analysis, the simplest, most effective, and most easily understood piece of sustainability information that could be given to consumers would be a warning label: “If you wear this garment fewer than X times, your purchase is unsustainable and may increase global warming,” the report said.

It also claims “pay for play” participation from technology partners in fashion’s traceability.

“We would submit that urgent action is required by the E.U. and other governments to correct this,” the report said. “In particular, we are unclear how the E.U. could sanction the use of the [Higg Co.] MSI to generate scores for the EU PEF, when it is clear that for leather, for example, E.U. producers are being penalized through the use of a much higher economic allocation for their hides, than for those coming from JBS or PrimeAsia, without any rational explanation for this difference.

“And it goes without saying that if this proliferation of pay for play scores within the MSI — from JBS and PrimeAsia, to FibreTrace and Avery Dennison — is allowed to continue, SMEs and subsistence farmers will eventually be the only producers rated ‘unsustainable,’” the report noted. “This would not only be unjust and unscientific, it would also be a non-fiscal barrier to trade, and patently inconsistent with EU development policies and commitments.”

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