Sustainability in the Fashion Industry: The Role of Technology

https://storm5.com/sustainability-in-retail-technology/

The COVID-19 crisis marked a dramatic acceleration of many trends already underway, propelling some industries to record heights of performance, with one such industry being the fashion industry. However, the skyrocketing sales celebrated by retailers are coupled with the increase in waste production. To ensure sustainable development, the focus of the fashion industry is on Goal 12: Responsible Consumption and Production. Through waste reduction, we can ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns. Technology is believed to drive such sustainable initiatives. Indeed, I agree that technology forms the basis of our solutions. Apart from the technology mentioned in the article, many other solutions make use of technology to reduce the environmental impacts caused by fashion retail.

Technology as a Solution in the Fashion Industry

Biotechnology

There is an increasing popularity in the use of biotechnology in the fashion industry. Non-biodegradable synthetic fibres are known to be the main contributor to pollution. Hence the creation of more sustainable textiles is a promising solution. Biotechnology has allowed for the combination of bio-waste and existing fibres to make eco-friendly textiles. German outdoor brand, VAUDE, uses QMILK felt which is made from 20% milk and 80% wool. These alternatives are not only recyclable, regenerative and reusable, they also produce less waste during production and are biodegradable.

Augmented Reality

Another technology is the usage of augmented reality to try on fashion apparel. Augmented reality allows consumers to digitally try on items that they want to buy and opens the doors to made-to-order clothes. This can combat the high return rates of e-commerce as well as overproduction in the fashion industry. Brands like Adidas and Emilio Pucci have adopted such methods to reduce textile and waste production.

Artificial Intelligence

In the article, another technology mentioned was artificial intelligence (AI). With the collection of an accurate database, AI can be used to reduce waste produced. By analysing the stocks in demand, AI can prevent overproduction. Firms like Federal Packaging Industries make use of AI to cut waste production in the packaging process. One minute of downtime in production can cause a 10% to 20% wastage in raw materials, energy, and man-hours. Thus by developing an AI algorithm to detect problems and hindrances in the box production process, manufacturing disruptions could be prevented early, reducing the waste production. There are many other uses of AI that can mitigate other forms of wastage in the retail industry and hence I do agree with the article that technology can indeed drive sustainable initiatives.

Behind Every Purchase: Product and Waste Management

The popularity and convenience of e-commerce have driven up the pollution caused to the environment. Product packaging is often said to be recycled but the chemical recycling process of plastic waste requires more energy as compared to conventional recycling. The environmental organisation, CHEM Trust also highlights the hazardous chemicals used in these processes. With their oversold recyclability, less than 14% of 86 million tons of plastic packaging produced globally each year is recycled, with the rest ending up in landfills, incinerated or left to pollute our precious water bodies.

Not just with e-commerce, in-store shopping affects the environment as well. There are many forms of transportation involved in the retail industry — shipping of goods globally, transporting of goods from the warehouse to store and more. Freight transportation makes up 8% of the global gas emission and it is predicted to double by 2050. Carbon emissions from this retail-related transportation only serve to worsen the waste products of the industry.

Effectiveness of Technology as a Solution

As we explore the powerful potential of technology for sustainable development in the fashion industry, how effective are the solutions? To train an AI to execute its duties, a large amount of energy is required. The process of training a single model of AI emits almost 300,000 kilograms of carbon dioxide which is equivalent to the emissions of 5 cars in the United States. More energy is required in the process of building technological solutions as compared to conventional solutions. Hence the solutions available and are currently in use in the fashion industry are effective under the assumption that the waste reduction outweighs the waste emission from the creation of the solutions.

The Role of Technology

Ultimately, I lean in agreement that technology can help to drive sustainable initiatives in the retail industry. While it comes with its tradeoffs of propelling the retail industry’s detrimental impacts on the environment, there are more technological solutions to combat and neutralise such impacts. In addition to the solutions discussed, technology has been used in other ways to tackle sustainability in fashion. Online vector editors and 3D modelling are just a few of the many solutions. Moving towards the future, technology has opened the door to endless possibilities for sustainable initiatives. With the increase in awareness and the spur in action to conserve our environment, there is a greater embrace of the use of technology in the retail industry. Technology is our future. It is our greatest tool in achieving sustainability, even far beyond the retail industry.

References

(2021, August 5). Sustainability in Retail Technology. Storm5. https://storm5.com/sustainability-in-retail-technology/

Black, C. (2022, January 27). How technology is making fashion more sustainable. Heuritech. https://www.heuritech.com/articles/technology-fashion-more-sustainable/

Chee, K. (2022, March 7). Packaging firms taps AI to cut waste, save costs in production process. The Straits Times. https://www.straitstimes.com/tech/tech-news/packaging-firm-taps-ai-to-cut-waste-save-costs-in-production-process

Chua, J. S. (2021, January 8). Online shopping has boomed in the pandemic. But what about all the packaging? Vox. https://www.vox.com/the-goods/22214017/online-shopping-pandemic-packaging-ecommerce-waste-plastic

Ionita, A. (2022, February 7). Is virtual fashion more eco-friendly? Trends and insights from SEE founders. The Recursive. https://therecursive.com/is-virtual-fashion-more-eco-friendly-trends-and-insights-from-see-founders/

Kochar, S. (2022, March 14). Top 9 Technology Trends Reshaping The Fashion Industry In 2022. Techpacker. https://techpacker.com/blog/design/top-9-fashion-technology-trends/#3d-printing

Labbe, M. (2021, August 31). AI and climate change: The mixed impact of machine learning. Tech Target. https://www.techtarget.com/searchenterpriseai/feature/AI-and-climate-change-The-mixed-impact-of-machine-learning

Moseman, A. (2021, September 2). How can carbon emissions from freight be reduced? MIT Climate Portal. https://climate.mit.edu/ask-mit/how-can-carbon-emissions-freight-be-reduced

Tabriza, S. (2021, January 20). Chemical Recycling: underwhelming and oversold. Zero Waste Europe. https://zerowasteeurope.eu/2021/01/chemical-recycling-underwhelming-oversold/

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