Consumption Matters

UK apparel wholesaler Continental has just completed a comprehensive exercise to determine the carbon footprint of its cotton clothing. The methodology used was British Standards’ PAS 2005:2008.

Here’s what they found for a small charcoal women’s short-sleeve T-shirt with a colour print. The values refer to kg of CO2e (total carbondioxide and other GHGs)  per lifecycle:

The carbon footprint of a T-shirt.

It’s probably not a surprise that consumer use leads the pack here, particularly tumble drying and ironing, which – if avoided – could cut the total by another 37 percent.  The simple message is, of course, one about sustainable consumption patterns – which is still often overlooked. 

The one issue I see is the standard lifecycle definition. The executive summary speaks of 25 washing cycles. Is that cutting it too short? My oldest T-shirt (which I still wear occasionally) is 18 years old. Imagine that footprint! 

(Hat tip: Maya Forstater)


One Response to Consumption Matters

  1. Maya Forstater says:

    I agree, 25 washes on a t-shirt does seem too short. The implication is that if you keep your clothes long enough it doesn’t really matter (from a GHG point of view) how they were made (which I guess isn’t the conclusion that a green clothing label would like to reach….hence setting the lifecycle so short).

    My problem with the carbon labelling approach (and in fact, so much messaging around sustainable consumer action) is that it ignores the question of materiality i.e.: helping people to work out which choices really matter (in this case keep up the slovenly ways with lack of tumble drying and ironing…)

    It is interesting and counter-intuitive that local road transport has so much bigger a footprint than shipping — sounds ‘better logistics’ is a bigger part of the answer than ‘buy local’

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