Pollution and Corporations

When talking about sustainability, it’s important to know that it’s a layered topic. There are many factors at play that go into sustainability on a global scale. Most of the time, it’s overwhelming to think of sustainability this way, so instead, many people who talk about sustainability often focus on what can be done on an individual level. However, there is one major component that must be at least mentioned.

Just 100 companies are responsible for 71% of all industrial emissions of greenhouse gases. Many corporations have the goal of greenhouse gas emission reduction, but their emissions are happening at every level of the production and consumption process. First, there’s upstream emissions, which come from the physical production of the product. This happens because the product often needs some sort of natural material that has to be harvested, extracted or cultivated. Then there’s the downstream emissions, which are the emissions that come from the product’s use and disposal. Without recognizing these areas of emissions, there’s an area of improvement that’s not being utilized.

For example, Proctor and Gamble, or P&G has an emission reduction goal of 50% by 2030. Currently, P&G’s paper products, including their toilet paper, paper towel and facial tissues are estimated to produce 17.8 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually, due to its use of virgin pulp. So while the idea of 50% reduction sounds fantastic, the reality is that their reduction would only happen on a few levels of the production process. Namely, they would be reducing emissions at their own facilities (their factories/offices) , and those emissions generated by the third parties that P&G buys energy from. This fails to mention the emissions that come from the deforestation needed, the transportation of the product, and the emissions from the disposal of the product. So in reality, the portion of emissions they’re speaking about reducing accounts for 2% of their total emission output. So a 50% reduction would only account for 1% of their total output.

So again, sustainability is a layered topic. Sustainability on an individual scale is very important, because conscientiousness is always the first step towards progress. Now it’s important to apply that conscientiousness to those companies that make a huge impact on the environment, and hold them responsible for the pollution that they’re causing.


Thrifting: Pros and Cons

As previously mentioned, there are many benefits to thrifting as a sustainable alternative to buying from fast fashion retailers. With thrifting, you’re not supporting the fast fashion industry and cycle, which means you aren’t contributing to the mistreatment of workers or the wastefulness of the industry. If there’s less demand in fast fashion stores, then less gets made and less people get exploited. By buying second hand, you’re not creating a demand for more materials, because those materials and items already exist. In fact, by thrifting, you’re able to keep items out of landfills. The fashion industry is the second largest polluting industry, with synthetic fabrics taking 100+ years to decompose. Thrifting also leads to greater individuality with clothes. When thrifting, a person has to physically look through all kinds of items to find something they like. In a fast fashion store, things are laid out and organized together based on trends, and the stores are essentially telling you what to like, but in a thrift store, every piece speaks for itself. Thus, you get to find out what you really like, and not just what’s trendy. Also, thrifting is often less expensive than buying an item new, so it’s a cheaper alternative as well.

There’s many benefits to thrifting. However, it’s not without its faults either. Because sustainability itself is trendy, more people have been going to the thrift store in recent years. This has caused a sort of gentrification of the thrift stores, as resellers flock to it for sourcing. With the increase in demand at thrift stores, prices have gone up, especially on heavier items like sweaters and coats. The average coat at a thrift store is between $12.99-$19.99, whereas before they were closer to $10. This especially hurts the people who rely on thrift stores as their only way to get clothes. Resellers will go into thrift stores and buy all the trendy or quality vintage clothing, and then mark it up to sell online. This also perpetuates the trend cycle, as people then feel a need to constantly shop at the thrift store, and constantly buy more to keep up. Thrifting can lead to overconsumption too, which is a problem for everyone. However, if done in moderation, it can be a way to get new items in a more sustainable way.


Ethics in Clothing Production Part 2

As previously mentioned, the treatment of fast fashion workers could easily be described as “slave labor”. Workers are given terrible wages (often a fraction of a decent living wage, as much as 5 times less) and will often face abuse from personnel if deadlines aren’t met. What makes it even worse is the horrifying truth that often times to make ends meet, entire families will have to work in terrible conditions, including children. Currently there are over 150 million child workers in the world, and the fashion industry employs many of them. One heartbreaking example is the Sumangali scheme in India, in which young girls are hired and payed a wage to work in a textile factory for 3 to 5 years, after which they receive a lump sum that serves as their dowry. While in this system, the girls are forced to live in compounds and have very little contact with their families. Despite being forbidden, this is still a regular occurrence, and needless to say, should be stopped. This is happening on the other side of the world from those of us in the United States, but we see the results of these injustices in every fast fashion store. Besides the mistreatment by the people in this industry, the conditions of the workplaces themselves are also abysmal. There have been countless instances of garment factory disasters, including the collapse of the Rana Plaza in Bangladesh in 2013, killing 1134 people. Workers are crowded into unstable buildings with little to no ventilation, being forced to breathe in fumes from the dyes of the fabric, as well as fiber dust. Or even non-fabric related fumes, like blasted sand, affects these workers. 50 people have died and thousands are sick from blasted sand inhalation in denim factories in Turkey. These things, coupled with the sheer number of people working in these factories has led to all kinds of accidents and injuries. On top of all these other issues, workers in garment factories often aren’t allowed to form unions. These workers have no representation, and the cycle continues.

This is the devastating reality of fast fashion, but as I’ve mentioned before, it is something so prevalent in our culture that it’s practically unavoidable. So what do we do? The first step is being aware that these problems exist. Reading as much as possible about these issues can create more awareness when the information is shared and more publicly available. Secondly, put pressure on stores to hold them accountable, or shop elsewhere, like secondhand shops. Thirdly, you can make donations to organizations fighting to better the conditions for these workers, and eventually put an end to fast fashion once and for all.


Ethics in Clothing Production

For many people, the process of buying new clothes involves going to a physical store, or going online shopping to find whatever you’re looking for. There are some people who will shop around and try to find the best deal, or an option even more suited to their needs, but even then it’s not the most involved process. One common denominator is that the most readily available clothing producers, the most popular and most accessible, are often the most unethical in their production. It’s practically unavoidable, as nearly all clothing producers rely on foreign manufacturers, but that doesn’t mean that these injustices shouldn’t be discussed. These major corporations are exploiting entire populations of people who have no choice but to work in these terrible conditions. These workers need all the money that they can get, and these businesses know that they’re vulnerable, so they take advantage of that. They’re putting their health and well-being on the line for abysmal payback. Only an estimated 2% of fashion workers around the world are paid a living wage. In fact many official organizations, including the European Parliament, have decided that the term “slave labor” is an accurate description for the treatment of fast fashion workers. We don’t like to think that slavery still exists in our world, but it does. These workers aren’t treated like people. Many report not being allowed to take bathroom breaks, despite many working 14-16 hour days. During the peak season, the hours are even longer, because they can’t refuse the overtime pay. Many will also face verbal or physical abuse if deadlines aren’t met.

Now, this is a lot of information, and it can feel disheartening knowing that this is so prevalent. The route that I’ve taken is shifting to buy pretty much all of my clothes from secondhand sources, or to make my own. But it’s not that simple for everyone. It’s a layered topic, because the reality is that most of the time, fast fashion is the only option for many people. Many sustainable clothing producers make their clothing in small batches which don’t always include plus sizes. Some people simply can’t afford to shop at more sustainable shops, or even at online secondhand shops like Poshmark or Depop. Even in known secondhand stores like Goodwill prices have increased, especially on sought after items like coats. There is no perfect solution, the important thing is to have the information so you can make the decision that’s best for you.



When looking at clothing producers, most are making their clothes in a way that is harmful to the environment. Many consumers are now becoming aware of these practices, and are trying to make more ethical choices. Sustainability has become a trend of sorts, and now clothing producers are trying to get in on it.  Many stores are trying to move towards greener initiatives, or, give the illusion that they are.  One company guilty of this is H&M, who re-launched their “Conscious” collection last year.  The collection has technically been around since 2012, but was reintroduced and advertised again recently, because again, sustainability is trendy right now.  The 2021 line was intended to be a message to other clothing manufacturers, to show that clean and repurposed clothing was possible, as their clothes were made from 100% organic cotton.  However, less than a year later, it’s been found that the claims made by H&M aren’t all that they seemed to be.  In research done by the Changing Markets Foundation, a company dedicated to bringing attention to irresponsible corporate practices, they found that 96% of the claims H&M made about their Conscious collection were false or misleading.  One of the biggest inaccuracies was the fact that their Conscious collection wasn’t in fact made from 100% organic cotton, but rather 20% organic cotton.  The Conscious collection was even found to have a larger percent of harmful synthetic materials than the regular collection, 72% to 65%, respectively.  The company also doesn’t disclose any actual information about their production processes, including where the materials were sourced.  This all goes to say that many companies, not just H&M, use wording and claims in their advertising that make their clothing appear to be sustainably made when it isn’t.   Unfortunately, these are the stores that are often the most accessible, so it’s difficult to avoid.  Thus, it’s important to take company claims of sustainability with a grain of salt, and double check your resources if looking to make sustainable swaps.  Every little bit helps.