Smart cities around the world are developing everything with sustainability in mind. Whether it is buildings, vehicles, roads or technology itself, sustainability is gradually taking the central position. And it must. That is why the smart city concept came to being. Isn’t it?
Climate change is already causing harm. Pollution is poisoning the environment. The quality of the air we breathe and the water we drink are deteriorating. And it is the responsibility of smart cities to tackle the situation and create a better future for all.
What about the fashion industry then? This part of the story is seldom talked when smart city development is discussed. However, the fashion industry is as important as the houses we reside in and the technologies we use.
Many might be unaware. But the fashion industry is one of the biggest culprits when it comes to pollution. The sector has been significantly contributing to GHG emissions, chemical pollution, and water pollution. As per the Environmental Protection Agency, the US, 26 billion pounds of textiles end up in landfills every year. That’s equal to 85% of textiles enough to fill the Sydney harbour – as the World Economic Forum (WEF) indicates.
In an estimated 60% of clothes, polyester ( a plastic) material is found. It releases two to three times more emissions than cotton and does not break down in the ocean. Approximately 35% of all microplastics come from the laundering of synthetic textiles like polyester that never biodegrade. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) revealed in its 2017 report. So, it is high time. We need to talk about sustainable fashion. Let’s see what’s happening at present in the world of smart cities.
Help From Data Platform
Google in partnership with WWF Sweden is creating an environmental data platform. This program will enable the fashion industry with more responsible sourcing decisions. Today, the fashion industry accounts for 20% of wastewater worldwide.
The statistics will rise to as much as 50% by 2030. Much of this impact starts at the raw materials stage in the production process. Here supply chains can be highly fragmented. And accumulating and assessing data at a bigger scale is a challenge.
Hence, keeping this in mind, the partnership aims at addressing these needs. The platform will serve as a complement to existing efforts. At the 2019 Copenhagen Fashion Summit, Google Cloud announced the pilot in partnership with Stella McCartney. The aim is to use Google Cloud technology to provide a more all-inclusive view into raw materials of the clothing manufacturer’s supply chains. Stella McCartney will be the first fashion brand to test the technology.
WWF Sweden and long-term partner IKEA developed a similar tool in 2018. This was to analyse the risk and impact of different textile raw materials. Going forward, Google and WWF Sweden’s new collaboration will work on an updated platform. It will include all these data types – intending to further increase the accuracy and relevance of raw materials assessments.
The new platform will include raw materials based on WWF data and knowledge. Moreover, Stella McCartney and IKEA, WWF and Google are consulting with a large number of other fashion, luxury, denim, and athletic brands.
Reimagining The Material Making Concept
Breakthroughs in material technology can reduce the environmental impact of textile manufacturing. For instance, Modern Meadow, a New York-based social entrepreneur is creating ‘bio fabricated’ materials in the lab. It launched its first bio-engineered leather recently. It gives insight into how we can explore innovations and reimagine material production.
A dedicated team at Modern Meadow is working on transforming the material world without harming nature. Their vision is to build a better tomorrow. The company is operating at the vanguard of biotechnology. They believe that multidisciplinary collaboration between biology, design, and material science can lead to solving the real-world problem.
Modern Meadow uses biofabrication which is a method of creating material from the building blocks of nature. They design materials from the molecular level to come up with a design and performance with no environmental impact.
The design begins at the cellular level to produce proteins that are customised to deliver material with optimal properties. Further, these engineered cells grow into billions of protein-producing cell factories which become the building blocks of the material. Zoa is Modern Meadow’s first bio fabricated material brand designed with custom proteins.
Recycling Of The Old Clothing
At present, only 1% of the material used to manufacture clothing is recycled into new clothing. And only 13% of the total material used is recycled for other purposes. An estimated 300,000 tonnes of textiles in the UK end up in landfills each year. Hence, more recycling is essentially required.
Yellow Octopus Fashion, a sustainable solution firm in the UK is leading the change. The company’s fashion arm and its in-house IT experts have developed a digital app called ‘ReGAIN’ in 2018. It uses GPS mapping and tracking to allow users to know their nearest clothing take-back centres. The UK has nearly 20,000 of them. Many are hosted by charities, local authorities or retailers like H&M, Marks & Spencer (M&S).
After the garments are collected by the take-back centres, they are sorted. Items in wearable condition are sent to a charitable cause in the UK and overseas. Others not in wearable condition are shredded for recycling into insulation or fillers.
Yellow Octopus is encouraging customers to use the app with incentive and reward programs. When customers use the app, they are rewarded with a coupon of their choice for making a clothing donation. Users can use the coupons to receive discounts at retailers.
The app has notably diverted 45,000 kg of clothing from landfill and incineration within the first five months of its launch. For a stronger change, government policies need to act. It can include downright regulation or extended producer responsibility. For example, the UK and France have banned the burning of unsold fashion.
People Are Willing To Buy Sustainable Fashion
A brand with environmental values definitely indicates that it cares for the society. So, it’s obvious that consumers will trust such brands compared to their competitors with no environmental values.
Dr Matt Johnson, professor at Hult International Business School and founder of neuromarketing blog Pop Neuro talks about the evidence. Brands focusing on sustainability have an impact on consumers. People are willing to pay a premium for products from a sustainable brand over a non-sustainable competitor.
Of course, most of the buyers won’t quit shopping the fashion they like abruptly. And we may not even discontinue all fast fashion. However, buyers are willing to change their habits if they can contribute to the environment.
Although value and ease of purchase remain as primary drivers of the purchase decision, sustainability is emerging as a bigger factor. A 2019 survey by Hotwire provides evidence. 47% of internet users worldwide abandoned products and services from a brand that violated their personal values. Protection of the environment was on the top of the list.
Besides, even if sustainability isn’t a personal priority, purchase that serves the good is attractive to many. Dr Johnson adds that sustainable brands can absolutely use marketing to their advantage. They are for-profit companies with a genuine sustainability foundation. Hence, it opens possibilities of partnering with nonprofits.
As a result, this adds credibility to a sustainability claim. More importantly, it paves the way for new sustainable opportunities in smart cities.