Gen Z has a fast mode problem. It’s bad for the climate and equity

Students take part in a student climate protest on March 15, 2019 in London, England. Credit: Jack Taylor/Getty Images

Whether it’s dropping out of school by the millions, forcing powerful institutions to divest from fossil fuels, or boycotting big brands over diversity issues, Gen Zers have made a name for themselves by as strong supporters of climate action and equity. But Gen Z, whom Bank of America once called the “most disruptive generation ever,” has a serious blind spot: its addiction to fast fashion.

A 2020 survey by Vogue Business found that more than half of its Gen Z participants buy most of their clothes from fast fashion brands, like H&M, Gap, Zara and Forever 21. The research firm market share Mintel has reported that Gen Zers, generally considered those born between 1997 and 2010, also buy more clothes than older generations, with the average Gen-Zer owning hundreds of dollars worth of outfits that are never worn at all. It’s a trend that analysts say is fueled by a social media culture that drives youth and young adults to never wear the same outfit twice, as well as an industry that has made shopping and returns impulsive much easier.

This has been a huge boon for clothing retailers, who have responded to the growing demand for cheap and ever-changing clothing by launching new clothing lines at lightning speed. Once dictated by seasons like spring and fall, many retailers now offer hundreds to thousands of new clothing styles on a weekly or even daily basis. Famous fast fashion retailer Shein, based in China, offers between 700 and 1,000 new styles every day.

Last month, Shein was valued at $100 billion, a testament to the growing popularity of fast fashion as Gen Z begins to enter the workforce and create wealth. Since the 2000s, fashion production has doubled and is expected to triple by 2050, according to the American Chemical Society.

By ‘tackling’ Gen Z, ‘Shein has become the Frankenstein of social media, a fast fashion store whose pace and price range elicits the same reaction as single-use plastics: wear it once and throw it away,” Cazzie David, essayist. , social media personality and actor, wrote in a recent column.

Gen Z’s continued support for fast fashion is a stark contradiction to the cohort’s values ​​of environmental sustainability and social equity. The clothing industry is responsible for 4-8% of all man-made greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, meaning it could contribute more to global warming than the shipping and cargo industries. aviation together.

According to Columbia University School of Climate, the global fad also consumes 93 billion metric tons of clean water each year, about half of what Americans drink each year. It generates 20% of the world’s wastewater. It contributes about 35% of the microplastics floating in the ocean. And because it has to be cheap, fast fashion depends on exploited labor in developing countries, where regulations are lax.

Of the 75 million factory workers worldwide, many of whom are miners, it is estimated that only 2 percent earn a living wage.

Some members of Gen Z have attempted to address these issues. In recent years, young activists have pressured the garment industry to reduce its carbon footprint, the same way they have pressured political leaders to pass climate legislation and urged banks to stop financing fossil fuel companies.

Many clothing retailers have responded by voluntarily reporting their emissions and pledging to reduce them. Lululemon, for example, made a 2020 commitment to power its operations with 100% renewable electricity by 2021 and to reduce the carbon intensity of its supply chain emissions by 60% by 2030.

But in some ways, these voluntary efforts have not produced meaningful results, reported ICN’s Phil McKenna. Environmental certification programs that claim to verify the sustainability of fashion brands are actually facilitating “greenwashing” for the apparel industry, a recent report by environmental advocacy organization Changing Markets Foundation concluded.

The report, which analyzed voluntary efforts to reduce fashion’s growing environmental footprint, found that the schemes were instead leading to increased pollution, while helping to reinforce the industry’s reliance on fossil fuels.

Many experts have also warned that blaming consumers can be counterproductive to solving global issues such as climate change. Instead, they said, more governments need to enact regulations to provide reliable and standardized expectations for businesses, which are increasingly doing business across national borders, often subjecting them to disparate environmental and labor rules.

“Fashion is one of the least regulated industries,” said Maxine Bédat, founder of advocacy group New Standard Institute. told the New York Times. Imposing government regulation could help set the same standards across countries and “ensure that there is no competitive disadvantage in doing the right thing,” he said. she stated.

In January, New York lawmakers introduced new legislation that would require any apparel company with more than $100 million in revenue doing business in the state to disclose emissions from its operations and chains. procurement and develop concrete plans to reduce these emissions. If passed, New York would become the first state to implement such a regulation.

Yet pushing consumers to change their behavior is a valuable and even necessary tool for addressing the climate crisis, Michael Vandenbergh, a law professor and director of Vanderbilt Law School’s Climate Change Research Network, told me in an e -mail.

Labeling the carbon footprint of products, including clothing, can help reduce emissions, even if consumer behavior doesn’t change much, Vandenbergh said. It’s because companies ‘care so much about their reputation and their brand’ that they will increasingly see cutting emissions as an embedded cost of doing business amid growing public outcry to tackle global warming , did he declare.

“Will shifting consumer choices towards low-carbon fashion options solve the climate problem? No, but no solution will – there is no silver bullet to climate change,” Vandenbergh said. “We have to be realistic and pursue all the important options, and cutting carbon emissions from fashion is one of them.”

Thanks for reading Today’s Climate, and I’ll be back in your inbox on Friday.

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400 square miles

That’s roughly the amount of Amazon rainforest that was felled in Brazil during the month of April, the highest figure ever recorded for that month. according to data of the Brazilian space agency’s Deter surveillance system.

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