Textile production causes 1.2 billion tons of CO2e emissions every year.

Each year the textile industry produces about 1.2 billion tons of CO2e emissions* [1]. About 60% of textiles produced are used for making clothes [1]. Given global emissions in 2018 were 37.1 billion tons of CO2e emissions [2], textile production represents about 3% of global emissions. This is more than other industries: cement production accounts for about 1.3% of CO2e emissions, whilst the metal industry accounts for 2.2% [5].

What clothes should you buy to reduce your environmental impact? A polyester t-shirt has a higher carbon footprint than a cotton t-shirt [1]. But cotton requires huge amounts more water to produce, making it less environmentally friendly than the advertising industry suggests [1,3]. To know what fabric is the least harmful for the environment, we need to look at every stage of a piece of clothing’s life (production, use, and disposal) and consider all types of environmental harm (CO2 emissions, water use, chemical pollution etc.) [3]. With this perspective, polyester and acrylic are actually found to be the least harmful fabrics [3].

Much of the emissions from textiles are for clothes that we simply don’t need – the average person bought 60% more clothes in 2014 than in 2000 [6]. In the end, the best thing you can do is to only buy clothes that you really need, and get things second-hand when possible!

*CO2e = “CO2 equivalents”; a way of measuring the global warming effect of multiple different greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide with one unit [4].


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