Five key garments were examined with Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) to understand what sustainable fashion means to the Swedish fashion industry. LCA is an internationally accepted method to assess the environmental impact of a product’s entire life cycle, from cradle through the grave. This includes raw material extraction, material processing and product distribution. It also covers the use, disposal, recycling and disposal. The selected garments were a T-shirt, jeans, a dress, and a jacket. To allow for a detailed study, the environmental impact of “one typical use” was determined. This allowed for examining the environmental significance of different life cycle phases. The environmental impact of each garment was then scaled to correspond to the Swedish clothing consumption over a year. This allowed for examining more general aspects such as the relative importance and potential impact reduction measures.

The garments’ environmental impact was measured using indicators such as water use, nonrenewable energy, agricultural land occupation, contributions towards climate change (also known as “carbon footprint”) and freshwater ecotoxicity. The Swedish fashion industry has a carbon footprint of approximately 0.25 tonnes CO -2-equivalents per person and year. This number can be compared to the average Swedish person’s carbon footprint, which is approximately 10 tonnes CO -2-equivalents annually. Even though fashion is only 2.5% of the total carbon footprint, it must be significantly reduced in the future to reduce the climate impact of textile consumption.

The LCA results were scaled to reflect total clothing purchases in Sweden for the past year. The water use figures were weighted according to the amount of water available in the area where it was used. This is why the fibre production stage dominates all life cycle phases. The water used to wash clothes in Sweden is not as significant because there is a lot of rain, but cotton production often challenges the ecological values of aquatic ecosystems. Although the carbon footprint is evenly distributed across the phases of life, there are two aspects to the resulting profile that might surprise you. The significance of transporting the garment from the retail outlet to the user’s home (25%) is a key aspect of this result profile that has been overlooked in previous studies. This was an important component of the overall cycle tested in sensitivity analyses. Another surprise was the large contribution of fabric production to the carbon footprint. These results suggest that examining scenarios that reduce the pre-user environmental burden associated with clothing would be worthwhile. Many have been studied. The graph below shows the results of two interventions: increasing garment life span and replacing cotton fibres with Tencel-based forest fibres.

It is interesting to increase the practical life of garments, considering how much clothing is thrown away before its technical lifespan ends. Also, many fashion industry output is directed toward “fast fashion”, which is fast-produced garments with shorter technical or practical lives. The graph shows how an average garment’s practical lifespan is affected by an increase in factor three. With the obvious result (from the previous graph ), both carbon footprint and water usage are decreased by 65 per cent and 66 respectively. Some garments may not last as long, while others might. According to national statistics, the useful life span of T-shirts can be extended. This is an example of a challenging scenario for both manufacturers and consumers. They need to create and market durable garments and encourage people to buy fewer.

In the second example scenario, Tencel replaces cotton for the T-shirt and jeans. This is because Tencel uses a non-water stressed biomass resource. This results in a reduction in water consumption. It also supports investment in forest cellulosic fibres by the textile sector. Combining a longer lifespan with this forest cellulosic fibre produces the best result of all the four shown here. It will be difficult to achieve significant changes in the clothing industry’s business models, technical systems, and consumer attitudes. This report explores several collaborative consumption models that allow consumers to have varying wardrobes and extend the garment’s practical life span. This report also examines alternate dyeing techniques and alternative fibres against a broad range of life cycle impact indicators.

We examined the environmental benefits of a longer lifespan through the collaborative consumption scenarios and consumer behaviour scenarios. Collaboration consumption scenarios revealed that clothing libraries, second-hand stores, and rental services have potential environmental benefits, but there is also the risk of problem shifting. Increased consumer transportation could offset the benefits from lower production. When implementing collaborative consumption models, accounting must be done for logistics. This could include locating a clothing rental service or clothing library near consumers or public transportation. Or implementing internet solutions that are less dependent on consumer transportation. These scenarios show that changing consumer behaviour is important in terms of how consumers transport to and from the store and their laundry habits. A longer practical lifespan is an effective way for consumers to reduce their clothing consumption’s impact.

With the publication of new data about fibre, fabric, and garment production, and improvements in life cycle impact assessment methods, the potential to perform the type of environmental evaluation described in this report is constantly improving. The data collection techniques need to be refined. The growth of product category rules promises greater consistency between lifecycle assessments. However, such rules must accurately include the garment lifespan to provide useful guidance.