Updated: 5 days ago
By Olivia Madrid
This summer of record-breaking heat has been heeled by the autumn season plagued by deadly natural disasters. Because of this, the expectation for fashion companies is to take action to mitigate the effects of climate change. The United Nations climate research group has put out a statement following a study published two weeks ago, claiming that the world is off track with its climate change goals, and revolutionary actions and transformations are needed to fend off complete devastation. They have also put out that the earth is outside the “safe operating” limits in six out of the nine critical planetary boundaries needed to maintain stability.
These rising and extreme heat temperatures heavily impact garment workers, and there have been reports of workers experiencing symptoms like headaches and fevers. Production has also been calculated to decrease for every degree the temperature rises above 25 C (77 F).
A Wet Bulb Globe Temperature, which is a measure of environmental heat, at 32 C (89 F) can lead to severe heat stress when exercising moderate activities, while at 35 C (95 F) can result in severe effects like heat stroke and death to workers. This past summer has been the hottest on record, and the United Nations predicts that temperatures to rise at least 2.6 C (36 F) coming 2030.
Fashion brands have continuously been pledging to reduce their carbon footprint and become more environmentally friendly, however, many have also failed to address current climate challenges.
So how will this affect the fashion industry?
Manufacturing hubs are expected to possibly lose $65 billion in export earnings by 2030 due to rising temperatures and flooding, also preventing nearly one million new jobs in those locations. Cornell University’s Global Labour Institute and investment firm Schroders have reported that this will significantly put a dent in operating profits, compared to an adapted industry. Executive director at Cornell’s GLI, Jason Judd, states “these are conservative estimates, it’s quite possibly an underestimate.”
Angus Bauer, head of sustainable research at Schroders, emphasizes that financially, climate change impact is significant enough for every part of the fashion industry to have concerns and be vested in addressing climate issues.
About 18 percent of global apparel exports come from Bangladesh, Cambodia, Pakistan, and Vietnam, which host about 10,000 clothing and footwear factories and employ about 11 million garment workers. Moreover, these four countries are already being threatened by extreme weather and climate change, making them the most vulnerable to massive devastation.
People take rest under a shed during a countrywide heat wave amid power cuts in Dhaka, Bangladesh, June 6, 2023.REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain
Little steps have been taken in the past, as the fashion industry had simply relocated its supply locations. But that doesn’t change the fact workers are being treated extremely poorly. Though complete renovation will be costly, the climate change damage is costlier, and small steps in between huge adaptions are cost-effective and easily accessible.
In Bangladesh, research has been conducted to prove even minor changes, such as green or shade roofs, industrial fans, and sufficient water access can reduce the indoor temperatures by 2 C (35 F) during these brutal summers, which in turn can improve the productivity of workers by 1.4 percent each year. Indian clothing factories have shown energy-efficient LED lights decreased the indoor temperatures by 2.4 C (36 F)
Judd says priority should be given to adapting better regulation of indoor temperatures, as these reports should feel the pressure to enforce proper adaptions to fight climate change. Baur says “If efforts start to tilt towards adaptation… we get a win, win, win.”