Natural Resources

Is the Law Going to Make Fashion Eco-Friendly?

Lily Elkwood, Class of 2025

Shopping is a significant part of American culture, with the average American woman spending 400 hours a year shopping and throwing away 65 pounds of clothing per year. We throw out clothing as quickly as we buy it, creating a cycle that benefits the fashion industry and the world is becoming aware.

Fashion plays a role in not only American culture, but it also plays a role in climate change. The fashion industry is one of the greatest contributors to global warming: the fashion industry produces between 4% and 8.6% of global greenhouse gas emissions. To put this statistic into perspective, the fashion industry produces more emissions than the aviation industry of Germany, France, and the United Kingdom combined. The fashion industry’s pollution is not limited to emissions as 85% of all textiles produced each year end up in landfills.

The government is getting involved to mitigate the environmental damage caused by the fashion industry. New York, one of the world’s fashion centers, passed the New York Fashion Sustainability and Social Accountability Act in 2022 (Fashion Act). The Fashion Act applies to all fashion companies that conduct business in New York and generate more than $100 million in revenue. The Fashion Act now requires to map at least 50% of their supply chains and disclose the environmental impact of their activities, including greenhouse gas emissions, water footprint, and chemical use. Each company has 12 months to comply with the mapping directives and 18 months to provide their impact disclosures. The fines for violations are substantial; companies face fines of up to 2% of their annual revenue.

The Fashion Act appears promising and is promoted as such. The Fashion Act website promotes celebrity endorsements, including household names like Jane Fonda, Leonardo DiCaprio, Cameron Diaz, and Zooey Deschanel. However, there is a concern that the Fashion Act may lead to companies engaging in more greenwashing.

Greenwashing is a complex mix of (1) an absence of meaningful information and (2) the
manipulation of wording to sound impressive while lacking evidence to support its claims. While the
Fashion Act will require respective companies to submit their greenhouse gas emissions and similar statistics, “some critics say” OR “I think” it is possible that these companies may alter or manipulate the data to present themselves in a more favorable light. Just as they greenwash to consumers, it is possible they could greenwash the government.

The Fashion Act shows promise, as it is important to regulate an industry that has dire
consequences for the environment. Some believe that the act will serve as inspiration for other jurisdictions, and could mark a turning point in making climate change fashionable.