This report examines the environmental impact of the UK clothing industry. It highlights recent achievements in the sector, explores opportunities for businesses, and shares insights on consumer attitudes and behaviour toward clothing.

Key findings

  • Signatories of SCAP have outperformed industry – reducing carbon, water, and waste
  • The amount of clothing in household residual waste has reduced by 50,000 tonnes
  • 700,000 tonnes CO2e saved through people changing their clothing care habits
  • Switching to sustainable fibres offers the biggest opportunities for environmental savings

Overview

'Valuing Our Clothes: the cost of UK fashion' presents the latest research on the environmental impacts of the clothing industry in the UK, and an update on the progress and achievements of the Sustainable Clothing Action Plan (SCAP) so far.

It highlights opportunities and actions that can be taken across the sector in order to meet the SCAP targets. It also sets out opportunities for the clothing sector to reduce the resource impacts of the clothing – and gain business benefits from doing so.

Contents

Key findings

Outlines the key findings from the research. It shows that SCAP signatories have reduced carbon by 10.6%, water by 13.5%, and waste across the product life cycle by 0.8%, per tonne of clothing sold since 2012. 

Section A: Setting the scene

This section outlines the importance of fashion to the UK economy, highlighting how any improvements in this sector need to be part of a joined up approach to taking action.

Section B: Taking stock

How much clothing is purchased in the UK? Taking stock looks at the figures and analyses how much clothing is still in active use.

Section C: Impacts and footprints

This section pinpoints the areas of opportunity and action to improve the sustainability of clothing. It looks at how and where carbon, water, and waste impacts occur in the life cycle of garments, and analyses the changes in footprints per tonne of clothing in active use in the UK, between 2012 and 2016. 

Section D: The SCAP agreement

Looks at SCAP; what the agreement entails, its targets, and how it ties in with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

Section E: SCAP achievements

What has SCAP achieved since 2012? Section E covers the SCAP achievements in reducing carbon, water, and waste footprints since its inception.

Section F: Sustainable fibre choices

Significant actions have been taken by SCAP signatories to introduce more sustainable fibres to their clothing ranges. This is an achievable and measurable action which can make a real difference to the overall environmental impact of clothing. This section examines the opportunities for choosing more sustainable fibres.

Section G: Valuing our customers

Section G provides insight into action that customers are already taking to improve the environmental impact of their clothing, and highlights opportunities where they could be supported and encouraged by businesses to do more.

Section H: Meeting SCAP targets

What should SCAP signatories focus on to ensure they meet their targets? Priority products, designing for durability, helping customers to care for clothing, and resource efficient business models all offer the opportunities for business to make a difference.

Conclusions

Retailer signatories account for more than 58% of the UK clothing retail market by volume, and actions taken by those signatories are making a real difference to the sustainability of UK clothing.

To meet the SCAP targets by 2020, there are a number of areas which signatories can focus on:

  • Extending the life of clothes
  • Educating consumers
  • Focusing on priority products
  • Switching to sustainable cotton
  • Exploring new business models
  • Implementing closed loop recycling
  • Building further understanding of where supply chain waste arises.

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