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Why it matters that the fashion industry is not the “second biggest” polluter

From the Fast Company, the Guardian, industry leaders and countless other media platforms to documentaries, panel discussion, tweets and shares, the world has been under the impression that the fashion industry is the second most polluting in the world. However, following a New York Times investigation and an article by Vanessa Friedman, the company’s fashion director and chief fashion critic, we now know that this has been one encapsulating, relatively untraceable, perpetuating piece of fake news.

Now, we’re more familiar with fake news being used as a tool for propaganda from the right, often to exacerbate extremism or negatively influence the public—Trump comes to mind, Brexit too, alongside Fox News, Breitbart and fellow dominating partisan voices. Rarely is fake news used for causes such as addressing climate change, or to support pro-immigration policies. Which is why the revelations that the fashion industry is not the second most polluting in the world, but instead possibly the fourth or fifth, comes with a strange reception, to say the least. Because, what are the implications of this false information, when the fashion industry really is one of the most polluting and action to reduce emissions from the textile industry has only benefitted not harmed our planet?

There isn’t one person or platform that is accountable for the circulation of the fake information that the fashion industry is the “second biggest” polluter. In fact, in trying to trace back to its origin, the New York Times found itself speaking to news outlets including One Green Planet, who has pulled out this information from Eco Watch site that is quoting sustainable fashion designer Eileen Myles, who has now admitted to having adopted the false fact from a 2015 documentary by Andrew Morgan titled The True Cost, who apparently picked up the ‘fact’ from a conference in Copenhagen and so forth. Needless to say, a single mea culpa will not be coming out from the mouth of one source.

Fashion is a consumer facing industry with a turnaround anchored in four yearly season changes and the fads that evolve faster than our Instagram feeds refresh. In that light, there is no doubt that the industry is facing some serious questions regarding its sustainability and with that, more progressive designers and brands are set on creating new types of fabrics; implementing cleaner techniques for fabric dying and reshaping the communication and status quo surrounding the consumption of fashion. In that light, what’s so damaging about the “second biggest” title anyway?

“It’s so shocking, so catchy and so easy to believe.” Writes Friedman. And while the “second biggest” premise is seemingly harmless (it ultimately has encouraged positive action in putting pressure on the textile and shoe manufacturing industries to address their high levels of water pollution), in order to face the fashion industry’s highly polluting habits and lay down some concrete routes for global action, we need to know the real facts. As “only then can we really grapple with the actual problem in all its complicated, multifaceted reality.”

The word of the year by Dictionary.com is ‘misinformation’. Equally, Oxford Dictionary’s word of the year is ‘toxic’. If we want to strive for a world where fact and truth matters, for the sake of positive causes as much as for negative, those who care about the truth cannot pick and chose it according to convenience. Indeed, the hyperbolic and catchy “second biggest” has arguably been powerful in shifting the narrative around the disposable habits of how we consume fashion, but “does the end justify the means? Or does this push us further down the slippery slope of alternative facts on which we are currently sliding?” as Friedman writes. Those fighting against the extremist-inspired of fake news need to be equally careful to not fall into the same habits and pitfalls.

In a time when truth and facts are not just crucial for us to determine realistic solutions but are important for maintaining the integrity of the issue, whether the fashion industry is number two or number five makes a big difference. In regards to the fashion industry, let us take a note that it is not the second most polluting, but in the same breath, let’s also make sure it is still treated as the environmentally damaging industry that it, ultimately, is.

Can a festival like Glastonbury ever really be ‘green’?

Summer has, nominally, arrived and with it comes festival season. The ongoing climate catastrophe is on many people’s minds when it comes to planning summer holidays—flying long distances is inherently unsustainable and stay-cations are increasingly encouraged. But how sustainable is the festival economy?

Tent cities emerge from remote British fields; mounds of rubbish and recycling are left over at the end of a hectic, debauched weekend. Diesel generators are often used to provide electricity; drinking water has to be transported to the festival site. Temporary toilets tend to be used instead of traditional plumbing, which often utilise chemicals and require complicated transportation and disposal methods. It’s estimated that the U.K. festival industry produces around 23,500 tonnes of waste annually, which equates to 2.8 kg per person per day. The total carbon emissions, excluding travel, for the industry comes to an estimated 19,778 tonnes.

Glastonbury, the largest and most famous of the British festivals, descends on Somerset this weekend, with around 135 thousand ticket-holders on top of several thousand staff and volunteers. In many ways, Glastonbury is setting a prime example of how to be sustainable. Since 2004, all food and drink has been sold in wood and paper packaging—they have now also banned single-use plastics.

This year Glastonbury is also prioritising clean energy, as stated on the festival’s website, “In 2010 Worthy Farm installed 1,500 square meters of solar panels on the roof of the cattle shed. The 1,316 roof-mounted solar panels makes this one of the largest privately owned solar photovoltaic systems in the country.” An entire area of the site, The Green Fields, which includes the 1,000-capacity Croissant Neuf stage, is run purely on solar and wind power. This year, single-use plastic drinks bottles will be unavailable at the festival. They also have over 1,200 “eco-friendly compost toilets” which yield “over 500 tonnes of horticultural compost every year.”

But the organisers can only do so much. Festival-goers are encouraged, for instance, to use biodegradable glitter, as conventional glitter is a micro-plastic pollutant, but there are no active restrictions. They are, politely, asked to use the toilets provided and dispose of cigarette butts responsibly, in an effort to reduce water pollution and land contamination—of course, these standards are difficult to enforce throughout the duration of the festival across the 900 acres site.

While people are encouraged to travel to Glastonbury by coach in an effort to reduce carbon emissions and traffic on the rural roads, the website does also note how to arrive by air. They include a link to Winding Lake (previously Fly Glastonbury), an enterprise that provides guests with chartered helicopter flights and hotel accommodation.

And what of the festival wardrobe? The rise of fast fashion is environmentally disastrous—cheap outfits bought in haste and worn once, twice, then discarded. Vintage clothing and charity shops should be encouraged, too, but festivals like Bestival, who encourage fancy dress and themed outfits, complicated matters.

Love Your Tent is an international campaign that encourages people to invest in high-quality tents and to reuse them year after year, instead of buying cheap ones and abandoning them at the end of a weekend. This is in no way enforced, though. And this typifies the problem with making festivals more sustainable: it requires investment, effort and compromise, both on the part of the festival and the consumers. Festivals are meant to be a time to let loose, to leave the outside world behind. People don’t want to be thinking about politics or about climate catastrophe—at the end of a heavy weekend, they just want to go home.

Disposable products make life easier while effective recycling schemes take effort and thought. A truly sustainable festival requires a lot of work, the sheer scale of Glastonbury actually helps the festival in implementing the policies outlined above while smaller, newer festivals aren’t able to do the same. As with many issues of sustainability, it comes down to cost—and raising costs affects accessibility. True sustainability means changing minds and changing habits, not merely implementing policy. Large scale change is needed within the industry and many festivals are committed to green policies in the next decade. The truth is, festivals can be green—as green as you want them to be.