The fashion and textile industry is one of the most polluting industries in the world. According to estimations by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, the fashion industry is responsible for 20% of global wastewater, 10% of global CO2 emissions and 24% of insecticides, as well as 11% of pesticides. Danish non-profit organisation Global Fashion Agenda, which also organises the Copenhagen Fashion Summit, has made it its mission to spearhead the movement towards a more sustainable fashion industry and to encourage consumers and the industry to become more committed to sustainability. Since 2017, the Global Fashion Agenda, together with the Boston Consulting Group and the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, has been publishing an annual assessment of the fashion industry’s environmental and social performance: The Pulse of the Fashion Industry.
Based on statistics and the so-called Pulse Score , the 2019 update of the study shows that since the survey started in 2017, the fashion industry has improved its social and environmental performance in the past year, but at a slower rate than the previous year. From 2017 to 2018, the Pulse Score increased by six points; and this year only by four points. The Pulse Score is based on the Higg Index, a tool launched by the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC) to help companies assess their own transparency. Looking at the Pulse Score along specific steps of the value chain reveals significant performance differences. Two steps within the value chain that are showing above-average performance are management and supply chain. Retail stores, on the other hand, are showing a very weak performance.
The statistics make it clear that the fashion industry isn’t implementing sustainable solutions quickly enough to counterbalance the harmful impact of the fashion industry’s rapid growth. If this trajectory continues, the fashion sector will neither be able to adhere to the Social Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations, nor the Paris Agreement. “Fashion needs a deeper, more systemic change,” it says in the report.
The Pulse of the Fashion Industry not only sheds light on the industry, but also on the consumers. Statistics show that consumer awareness of sustainability is growing and, particularly for millennials, becoming an increasingly powerful factor in purchasing decisions. 75% of the consumers surveyed view sustainability as extremely or very important, although sustainability is a key purchasing criterion for just 7%. More relevant are criteria such as the high quality of goods with 23% and value for money with 16%.
In summary: change is happening, but the steps being made are too small. The Global Fashion Agenda, the Boston Consulting Group and the Sustainable Apparel Coalition are pooling their expertise to encourage the fashion industry to collaborate and innovate more.
 The Pulse Score represents a global and holistic baseline of sustainability management, target setting and implementation of sustainability initiatives within the fashion sector.
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