By Jennifer Dobrowolski

Earth Day is Over, What Now?

The 22nd of April marks the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. It is a day to celebrate how far we have come in addressing sustainability, but also a day to reflect on areas and industries in which change is imperative.  During this unprecedented pause in reality sparked by COVID-19, we are starting to see the […]

The 22nd of April marks the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. It is a day to celebrate how far we have come in addressing sustainability, but also a day to reflect on areas and industries in which change is imperative. 

During this unprecedented pause in reality sparked by COVID-19, we are starting to see the positive impacts of reduced consumption. The air is a little cleaner, highways are less congested, and wild animal sightings have risen significantly. The virus has given us a glimpse of how quickly the earth can recover with changes in human behavior.

The Indian capital New Delhi, one of the world’s most polluted cities saw a 60% reduction in PM2.5 levels from March 23 to April 13 from the same period in 2019. (awar Nazir/Getty Images, SAJJAD HUSSAIN/AFP via Getty Images)

But halting entire economies is not sustainable, and as life starts to regain its normal pace, so too will carbon emissions and environmental degradation. COVID-19 has taught the world the hard way what can happen when nobody is prepared for a crisis. The effects of the virus have stretched to all corners of the earth, solidifying its status as a global health emergency. However, we needn’t forget that the climate is also in a state of emergency, one with the potential to outlast the effects of COVID-19. 

While it would be easy to call this pandemic a win for the environment, the United Nations has instead called for “a profound, systemic shift to a more sustainable economy that works for both people and the planet.” 

The Fashion Industry & The Environment 

When it comes to the environment, the fashion industry has a bad reputation. According to a recent McKinsey report, the industry accounts for 20 to 35 percent of microplastic flows into the ocean and outweighs the carbon footprint of international flights and shopping combined (2019). 

Microplastic Pollution; Courtesy of Orlando Barria/EFE via ZUMA Press

While awareness about sustainable fashion has certainly grown (Internet searches for “sustainable fashion” tripled between 2016 and 2019),  consumers are not following through. A US McKinsey survey revealed that while 66 percent say that they consider sustainability when making a luxury purchase, only a minority are willing to pay more for sustainable products (33 percent of Gen-Z and just 12 percent of baby boomers).

This discrepancy between values and actual purchases is worsened by greenwashing and unclear guidelines. Consumers are unsure of what “sustainability” really means and how they can identify sustainable brands. The Global Fashion Agenda’s Pulse report revealed a pervasive lack of consumer trust, amid accusations of greenwashing, using sustainability as a marketing strategy without a significant positive impact on the environment. This is where Renoon comes in, a platform that evaluates brands at the item level to ensure that they align with stringent social and environmental criteria.

What progress have we made?

Early 2019 saw the launch of the  UN Alliance for Sustainable Fashion. This past June, France became the first country to ban the destruction of unsold fashion goods, mandating that manufacturers and retailers donate, reuse or recycle. In September, the German government started “the Green Button” a sustainable textile certification based on the UN guiding principles of business and human rights. The EU has created a circular economy action plan with the goal of ensuring that products can be repaired or recycled, with a special focus on textiles. This surge of activity has brought fashion’s environmental impact to the global stage. At the G7 summit in August, over 150 brands signed on to French President Emmanuel Macron’s Fashion Pact.

Major brands are also starting to get on board. LVMH has committed to several initiatives, setting a target of 70 percent of the group’s leather to be sourced in Leather Working Group (LWG) certified tanneries, up from their current 48 percent. Brands such as Everlane and Reformation have proven that sustainability can be scaled, sparking the emergence of several new sustainable fashion startups in 2019. 

Image courtesy of Reformation

What can you do?

As a consumer, the most sustainable thing that you can do is to consume less.  “The single best thing we can do for the planet is to keep our gear in use longer and cut down on consumption,” Patagonia says on its website.  While it is important to shop for sustainable products, it is also important to recognize the reality that shopping itself is inherently unsustainable. “There is no sustainable material, per se, because for everything you need a resource,” says sustainable fabric entrepreneur Nina Marenzi. 

So this earth day, I challenge you to slow down. When you do need to buy clothing, look on Renoon for brands that are contributing positively to the sustainable fashion movement. But above all, I urge you to shop for quality over quantity, buying less clothing that you will love for a long time.

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