The global environmental footprint of the fashion industry, often referred to as its “dirty secret,” has come under increased scrutiny, revealing a lack of comprehensive understanding. The diverse approaches to measuring and assessing the sustainability of the sector contribute to consumer unawareness about the ecological consequences of their clothing choices.
Northumbria University is spearheading a substantial endeavor to address this challenge. With funding exceeding two million pounds from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), and Innovate UK, the initiative seeks to form a collaborative network involving academia, manufacturers, prominent fashion brands, and consumers. The objective is to comprehensively examine the methods employed to gauge and evaluate the environmental impact of the entire fashion and textiles industry.
Led by Dr. Alana James of Northumbria University, the project aspires to align with UK Research and Innovation’s (UKRI) ambition of revolutionizing the circular fashion and textiles sector. Collaborative networks will play a pivotal role in identifying and prioritizing emerging research and knowledge exchange challenges.
Dr. James, whose research focuses on sustainable change within the fashion industry, is joined by experts from Northumbria, King’s College London, and Loughborough University, encompassing fields such as pollution, forensic science, design, and data analytics. Key stakeholders, including fashion brands like Barbour, Montane, and ASOS, as well as sustainable clothing companies, campaign groups, and governmental bodies, will join forces over the next two years to gain deeper insights into the environmental impact assessment of fashion items.
Fashion brands Barbour, Montane and ASOS amongst stakeholders
Dr. James underscores the need for a more comprehensive approach beyond carbon footprint assessment, urging a broader consideration of factors such as microfiber shedding and its ramifications for environmental health.
The collaboration strives to engender greater transparency, enabling consumers to make more informed decisions and support environmentally conscious fashion choices. With the fashion and textile industry contributing significantly to the UK economy (21 billion pounds) and the global environmental crisis (8 percent of greenhouse gas emissions and 20 percent of wastewater), this initiative holds the potential to instigate transformative change.
Named IMPACT+: Environmental Index Measures Promoting Assessment and Circular Transparency in Fashion, the project is one of three to receive funding through UKRI’s circular fashion and textile program, signaling a decade-long commitment to sustainable transformation in the sector. The collaboration will culminate in the pursuit of net-zero targets before 2050.
Northumbria University’s multifaceted team, encompassing expertise in forensic science, soil ecology, sustainable fashion, and air quality management, underscores the institution’s dedication to interdisciplinary collaboration to address global challenges.
As the initiative advances, it holds the promise of reshaping the industry’s approach to sustainability and leaving an enduring impact on its future.