Conscious Consumption

This blog presents a set of action items for improving the fashion industry’s impact on the environment and its diversity. It was developed in the context of the Hirschmann grant Policy Kitchen project and is part of a series. In this blog, we outline propositions for the international community as well as ideas that would make us consumers more considerate when choosing a new clothing item in the near future. Ready to act? Get inspired by reading on.  

By Ani Kocharyan, Ladina Kamber, Liliane Costa, Fransiska Novitaa, Nadine Stahl and Chiara Skirl 


In the image of the future, we were mostly triggered by the hip farmer figure. To be considered hip, the clothing style has to fit a certain image.  But today’s enormously globalized clothing industry is extremely harmful to the environment and thus requires sweeping changes if we want to keep the biodiversity around us and thus us homo sapiens alive. This blog presents some collectively ideated and refined ideas aiming to enable our future biodiversity snapshot through actions in the clothing industry.

What are the effects on biodiversity if we rethink our wardrobe?

The value chain of the garment industry, from raw material production, material preparation and processing, as well as the durability of clothing, has a negative impact on biodiversity.

Cotton agriculture uses insecticides and pesticides intensively, as well as a high volume of water, since cotton is a water-intensive crop. The dyeing and treating of textiles aggressively exploit freshwater resources and pollute waterways through chemical residue and non biodegradable liquid waste. Microplastics from our laundry load or the washing of synthetic textiles end up in oceans and poison marine life. At the end of the chain, textile waste ends up in landfills, which pollutes their surroundings and kills the habitat for the living things that live around them. Every day, new fashion trends of the western world are sold by big retailers and produced in developing nations under poor conditions for the people involved as well as the environment. 

Despite this life-threatening problem, consumerism and materialism have taken over our daily lives. With social media causing comparison, dissatisfaction and desire and big companies promoting overconsumption (e.g. Black Friday, fast fashion, etc.), it is hard to believe that a minimalist life is even possible in today’s world.  

Biodiversity loss is happening at a threatening speed, calling for urgent actions on all levels: consumers have to spend their money more considered and governments create regulatory frameworks and sign international agreements that assure that the environment and preservation of biodiversity is considered along the entire production chain. 

At the international level the United Nations Alliance for Sustainable Fashion as an initiative of United Nations agencies was created to contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals through coordinated action in the fashion sector. The Alliance tries to create synergies, promote active collaboration and share their knowledge. But this isn’t enough. In rough ideas, we propose the following action items to  the United Nations Alliance for Sustainable Fashion, as well as the international community as a whole, to enhance the achievements of the SDGs :

  1. Strict and legally binding limitations on the use of insecticides and pesticides for the cotton agriculture.  
  2. Transparency by the textile industry: Inform consumers about recycling opportunities and provide more information about what happens to the collected textiles. This can motivate big brands’ loyal consumers to take part in the recycling movement.
  3. Mandatory labelling of textile products with the materials and chemicals they contain. Labelling the information on whether they are pure or mixed, to make the textile recycling process easier. 
  4. Policy support in the form of tax incentives for textile products containing recycled content. 
  5. Create government-run local drop-off centres where people can hand in their unused clothes and get a little discount on state services in return (e.g. discount on rubbish bags).  
  6. Educate children in school on the climate and biodiversity crisis and sensitise them to the issue so that they can think critically about their role. Putting the theory into praxis by teaching them how to be creative with reusing their old clothes. 

While we wish for the international community to act upon these and many more action ideas that are existing, creating regulatory frameworks with biodiversity conservation in mind and signing legally binding international treaties, we have a few additional ideas for the consumers, as their change of behaviour is most likely higher:   

  1. Avoiding fast fashion, adopt slow fashion. Wearing our family’s old clothes can be fun. By re-wearing it, we embrace every value that a piece brings over time, be it memories, nostalgia, or special meaning about people that we love.
  2. Selling, trading or donating of unworn clothes.
  3. Swapping your clothing with friends and family for a certain amount of time. 
  4. Upcycling of your clothes. Upcycling is possible even without sewing. If you don’t wear a certain pair of jeans anymore, cut off their legs and re-use them as shorts. If you know how to sew, there are endless possibilities to upcycle any item.
  5. Giving a piece of clothing a new purpose in your life. If you don’t like to wear a t-shirt in your everyday life, it might still be a perfect pyjama.
  6. If buying new clothes is needed, buy good quality clothes that will last long.

Should the international community be able to comply with all points, this could have a direct positive effect on biodiversity. Consumers are becoming more and more aware of this problem and can thus somewhat steer the way the clothing industry works, but a complete remodelling of the system would still be necessary. This could be done faster and better through a legally binding treaty.

We hope for a better future and a future with hip farmers, but with sustainable clothes on.