Sustainability and Circular Economy are not just a niche trend anymore. Well-known brands are using this consumer consciousness by producing so-called “green products” and by advertising their sustainability with an alleged circularity through various initiatives, like take-back programs, circular product design, as well as recycled -or biomaterials. But there is a lot that can go wrong.
From fast fashion to super-fast fashion
Most products we buy, harm our environment. Starting from food to electronics, especially the fast fashion industry has been repeatedly linked to humanitarian and environmental scandals. Digital marketing and online channels are only some factors that allowed fashion to move forward as fast as it has. But even fast fashion has been overtaken by companies that produce fashion even faster and cheaper. The speed of companies like Asos has earned them the reputation of “Super-Fast Fashion”, renewing fashion items at least once a week. This reduces the useful life of these items and keeps clients always on the lookout for new product offers.
No fashion item has experienced such hype in recent years as the sneaker. Partly because of this hype, more shoes are being produced and eventually returned or thrown away. In Germany alone, more than 380 million pairs of shoes are produced every year. To further push this hype, sports -and (super) fast-fashion brands produce their sneakers as cheaply as possible, not accounting for the environmental costs. Not only the production itself but also the number of returns and the final “recycling” represent a huge burden on our environment. Is Circular Economy and a well thought circular business model the solution here?
The massive green-washing campaigns of Nike & Co.
With the so-called “Sneaker hunt”, journalists from NDR, STRG_F, ZEIT, and Flip were able to uncover a huge green-washing scandal by showcasing the journey of returned or recycled sneakers. Many brands give themselves a green label by promising to turn old shoes into new and sustainable products. While worn-out sneakers cannot be salvaged, even unworn, spotless, and returned shoes are either resold or more commonly end up in the trash and finally getting burned. Even though, sustainability programs like “Nike Grind” promise to collect recycled materials and mold them into new products, brand-new shoes end up in the shredding center.
According to Prof. Michael Braungart, sneakers contain about 30 different components, including lots of chemicals like toxic heavy metals, halogen -and chlorine compounds. Degradation of these materials is practically impossible as shoes are never designed for recycling. All recycling offered by programs like “Nike Grind” is massive downcycling. Until now, there is no sustainable and economically viable solution to properly recycle worn-out shoes. While laws like the German “Kreislaufwirtschaftsgesetz” should prevent the destruction of virgin material, manufacturers find ways to bypass them. Of course, these consequences are not written on the price tag.
If something goes wrong, it is our job to make it better
Murphys Law says, that “if there’s more than one possible outcome of a job or task, and one of those outcomes will result in disaster or an undesirable consequence, then somebody will do it that way.” We at DFGE say, „if something goes wrong, it is our job to make it better”. While many businesses have already started to work towards real cradle-to-cradle solutions, one can only hope that the European legislation follows by introducing laws that foster further sustainable business models.
One must admit that there is still a long way to go, so here are our tips for everyone who is trying to integrate a more sustainable approach into their shopping behavior: Buy less, choose well, make it last! If your sneakers cannot be repaired, throw them into residual waste instead of the clothing container. In the best case, shoes from the clothing container end up at a sorting plant and get burnt. In the worst-case scenario, the shoes will be transported to Africa where they undermine the local textile industry. Finally, they will also end up in the trash, this time without the necessary recycling infrastructure and as such poisoning the environment.
How DFGE can help you to move forward to Circular Economy
One thing is for sure, the struggle to find a more sustainable solution does not only concern the fashion industry. If you are a manufacturer of any kind of goods, here is how we can help. Instead of only introducing small green-conscious programs, start to rethink your business model. DFGE can support you not only by calculating the carbon footprints of your products but also by realigning your strategy towards a more sustainable future.
Detailed information on Closed-loop value chains can be found in our actual White Paper.