The textiles industry has grown to become one of the largest global industries, with a sales value estimated at over $2.5 trillion in 2016. A significant and growing portion of this amount is consumed and produced in Asia Pacific and South Asia. Annually, the industry produces approximately 80 billion garments and directly employs 60 to 75 million people worldwide, a considerable part of which are women. Environmental and social impacts associated with the textile value chain are significant and therefore of increasing concern to the global community. In the current, mostly linear, system for producing, distributing, and using clothing more than $500 billion in value is lost from the system every year due to under-utilized clothes and the lack of recycling. It is estimated that eliminating today's negative environmental and health impacts emanating from poor chemicals and facilities management in the textile industry would have an economic benefit of $8 billion annually in 2030.
Deeper knowledge to lever action in the value chain – about its actors, the environmental and social impacts, and associated intervention strategies for a more sustainable and circular value chain – is required. Generally, sustainability considerations in the production of textiles have gained traction, particularly for labour issues. However, the global textile value chain is still far from closing loops and reducing its impacts. With sales expected to grow further, accelerated through ever increasing demand for fast fashion, actions for a sustainable textile value chain, including new business models, are indispensable. Hazardous substances are a barrier to achieving more sustainable and circular value chains. Transparency on products’ chemical content, production history, and properties for use and after use is fundamental. The global growing fashion appetite has also a potential to be a highly visible engine for lifestyle change and consumer education.
UNEP aims to provide leadership and convene partners to develop knowledge and solutions to advance on sustainable and more circular textile value chains. This website collects materials and informs on events of UNEP and its partners around the topic.
What happened so far:
- UNEP's Economy Division works on Sustainable Consumption and Production, including through circularity, and sound chemicals management in different sectors, including the textile sector. An overview of the work, as well as supportive methodologies and approaches provided by UNEP's Economy Division to advance circularity in textile value chains is available here.
- In January 2019, UNEP convened an expert consultation workshop with representatives from the fashion and textile industry, governments, international organisations, advocacy groups and fashion institutes, to discuss and reach a common understanding on the textile value chain, its key impact drivers, as well as intervention strategies for a more sustainable and circular textile value chain. A report, which will be published in 2020, will capture the consultation outcomes.
- In March 2019, a panel session on 'Accelerating Circularity Actions for a Sustainable Textile Value Chain' was held at the 2019 Sustainable Innovation Expo at the fourth United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA-4). The key outcomes are summarized here (pages 28-30).
- In June 2019, UNEP and the Ministry of Environment of Finland, with the participation of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and the European Environmental Bureau, organized a side session at the World Circular Economy Forum 2019: "Closing the Loop in Textiles - How to boost more sustainable and circular textiles value chain". The WCEF 2019 summary is available here.
- In November 2019, a masterclass for African fashion entrepreneurs was held at the outsets of the Global Gender Summit 2019. The Fashionomics Africa Masterclass was organized by the African Development Bank, in partnership with UNEP and other 6 organizations.
- A New Textile's Economy: Redesigning Fashion's Future, published by Ellen MacArthur Foundation and Circular Fibers Initiative, 2017
- Circular Economy in the Textile Sector, published by GIZ, 2019
- Circular Fashion Advocacy. A Strategy Towards a Circular Fashion Industry in Europe, published by ecopreneur.eu, 2019
- Measuring Fashion. Insights from the Environmental Impact of the Global Apparel and Footwear Industries study, published by Quantis, 2018
- Policy recommendations towards a zero waste textile industry, published by Fibersort, 2019
- The Future of Circular Fashion. Assessing the Viability of Circular Business Models, published by Fashion for Good and Accenture, 2019
- Working Paper on the future of work in textiles, clothing, leather and footwear, published by the International Labour Organization, 2019
- Textile's in Europe's circular economy, published by the European Environment Agency, 2019
- Material Change Insights Report, published by Textile Exchange, 2019
- The UNEP Circularity Platform, provided by UNEP
- Anatomy of Action challenge campaign, run by UNEP under the One Planet network SLE programme
- Collection of projects that the Nordic Council of Ministers has commissioned to green the fashion and textile sector
- Corporate Fibers & Materials Benchmark, provided by TextileExchange
- Fashionomics Africa Digital Marketplace and Mobile App, provided by the African Development Bank
- Make Fashion Circular, led by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation
- Traceability of Sustainability Value Chains: Enhancing transparency in the garment and footwear sector for informed and responsible choices, implemented by UNECE
- Policy Hub, launched by the Sustainable Apparel Coalition in collaboration with the Federation of the European Sporting Goods Industry, and Global Fashion Agenda
- Wardrobe Change campaign, run by the European Environmental Bureau
- List of sharing platforms in the textile sector in Spain, provided by OCU
- 2020 Circular Fashion System Commitment, developed by the Global Fashion Agenda
- Dutch Policy Programme for Circular Textile 2020-2025, put forward by Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management
- The UN Alliance for Sustainable Fashion, bringing together various UN agencies
- Open letter on the COVID-19 recovery, issued by WWF and a coalition of brands, companies, organizations and associations
Webinars and events:
- Webinar recording: How global biodiversity data can help the fashion industry restore nature, run by IBAT
- Documentary film: Textile Mountain, released by the Irish Environmental Network
- Materials from UNECE's Multi-Stakeholder Policy Dialogue: Accelerating action for Sustainable and Circular Value Chains in Garment & Footwear
- UNEP/GGKP, Report launch - Sustainability and Circularity in the Textile Value Chain, 20 October 2020
- UNEP/CEFAST, Accelerating action for Sustainable & Circular Value Chains in Garment & Footwear, 23&24 November, Geneva and online
- World Circular Economy Forum 13-15 September 2021, Toronto, Canada
COVID-19 analysis and responses:
ILO sectoral briefing on COVID-19 and the textiles, clothing, leather and footwear industries. Additionally, a call to action ‘COVID-19: Action in the Global Garment Industry’ aims to catalyse action from across the global garment industry to support manufacturers to survive the economic disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and to protect garment workers’ income, health and employment
The Civil Society European Strategy for Sustainable Textiles, Garments, Leather & Footwear provides a response to the COVID-19 pandemic
The Sustainable Apparel Coalition Weaving a Better Future: Rebuilding a More Sustainable Fashion Industry After COVID-19, in cooperation with Boston Consulting Group and Higg Co.
Textile Exchange's Material Change Insights report includes references to COVID-19
The Ellen McArthur Foundation's statement The Covid-19 recovery requires a resilient circular economy
This UNEP Factsheet on Green Jobs makes the case for building back better by creating jobs that take our economies one step further towards the 2030 Agenda and Paris Agreement, by accelerating and scaling up sustainable consumption and production
The Global Fashion Agenda's CEO Agenda 2020 - COVID-19 outlines six opportunities for CEOs to rebuilld the fashion industry, offering guidance to recover profitability and embed greater resilience by advancing sustainability