Not the cost to you; the cost to your planet.
You can turn a blind eye to this and live in denial about the environmental cost of clothing, but that won’t change the fact that fashion is taking us towards doom.
As for my initial question, let me answer that for you.
- Producing a pair of jeans results in an emission of 33.4 kilograms of carbon equivalent.
- The process also requires 3,781 liters of water.
I didn’t mean to corner your jeans, though.
It is not the only one costing the environment, after all. The fashion industry at large is at fault.
It consumes 93 billion cubic meters of water. Each year. That much water would have been enough for use by 5 million people.
So, if the entire fashion industry is a combined culprit, what can you do as a consumer?
You cannot definitely go back to wearing leaves, right?
But you could wear hemp clothing.
It would not just limit your carbon contribution to the environment but also reverse the damage that has already been done.
Well, hemp is a carbon-negative crop. It takes in carbon dioxide from the environment during photosynthesis…
Well, don’t all plants do that?
Yes, but the amount of carbon dioxide that hemp takes in from the environment is more than the emissions caused by its production and processing. This means that the net effect of using hemp clothing would be that the amount of carbon dioxide in the environment would come down.
But that’s just my word against what the world is doing, right?
I know it is hard for you to trust me, a faceless existence on the web.
You cannot just change your entire wardrobe because someone on the Internet said something.
I also understand your skepticism about hemp. Marijuana’s close cousin doing anyone any good isn’t the most easily believable fact, right?
But I have concrete data and expert opinions backing me up.
Now, before I tell you how hemp can solve the problem, here are some numbers to help you visualize the extent and gravity of the problem at hand.
The Cost of Clothing: Carbon Footprint
The annual carbon footprint of the fashion industry is estimated at around 3.3 billion tons of CO2.
Cannot conjure up an image to understand how little or how much it is?
Well, that’s equivalent to the carbon footprint of 28 states of the European Union together.
Also, the carbon emission by the global fashion industry is more than the annual global carbon emission of international flights and maritime shipping combined.
I hope that does give you a picture of how fashion is among the top contributors to carbon emission.
And it is not just about carbon dioxide.
- 4% of global greenhouse gas emission comes from the fashion industry. That’s around 2.1 billion tons.
- Fabric dyeing and treatment are accountable for 20% of the world’s wastewater.
All of this just so that you can wear clothes with labels from big brands.
For how long?
You’ll wear those clothes once or twice, right?
Fast-changing fashion also means there is little to no recycling, and the demand for more clothes is always on the rise.
Did you know less than 1% of clothes are recycled?
Well, now you know it. And also that fashion is taking us towards the end. At a fast-forwarded speed.
Hemp – A Carbon Negative Solution
First things first, hemp isn’t marijuana.
It isn’t weed either.
And it definitely won’t give you a high.
Hemp has lots of CBD (the good thing that relieves pain eases anxiety, and has plenty of medicinal uses). But very little THC (the psychoactive element in marijuana, which gives a feeling of ecstasy and high.)
And hemp stalk can be used to create hemp fiber which is then converted into fabric. And hemp fabric can be used to make hemp clothes that can replace other fabrics and reduce your carbon footprint.
As I had already told you, hemp is a carbon-negative crop. So using it would cut down your carbon contribution. It is good for the environment. And good for you too. (The fabric is breathable, comfortable, strong, UV-resistant, and available in plenty of natural colors.)
But how exactly does it cut down your carbon footprint?
Here is how hemp reduces carbon emissions and inches us towards a better tomorrow:
Hemp Sequesters Large Amounts of CO2
An acre of hemp sequesters 11,000 pounds (or 5.5 tons) of CO2 in one growth cycle.
If hemp growers, processors, and fabric manufacturers take enough effort to keep their processes clean, the amount of CO2 that hemp sequesters would be more than what is released from the farm-to-fabric process.
And well, you’d be surprised to know that the 5.5 tons of CO2 being sequestered by hemp crop per acre are enough to counter the entire carbon emission of the fashion industry.
Here’s the math that I did to come to that conclusion:
To offset the 3.3 billion tons of carbon footprint created by the fashion industry, we’d need to grow hemp on 600 million acres of land. (Given that per acre, 5.5 tons of CO2 is sequestered.)
(Of course, when we are growing hemp, the actual carbon footprint would be much lower, but let’s just keep using the numbers we have available as of now.)
Now, even if we don’t cultivate 600 million acres of land with hemp crop in one go, we can grow two crops of hemp in a year. (It has a 90 to 120 days life cycle, and it keeps the soil nutrient-rich. More on this later!)
So we just need 300 million acres of land at a time to grow hemp and offset the carbon footprint that the fashion industry creates.
Do we have 300 million acres of land to spare to grow hemp?
I understand that imagining 300 million acres of land with hemp crop growing over it is difficult.
The figure might seem large, but if we look at the total arable land available across the globe, 300 million acres is a possible figure.
More than 3.67 billion acres of land across the world is arable. (3,706,580,722.007 acres to be precise.)
It is totally possible to grow hemp on 300 million acres.
And that’s not even the end of how hemp helps. Here are five other ways hemp is good for the environment and helps indirectly cut down your carbon footprint.
- Hemp Is A High Yield Crop – Needs Less Space and Time, But Gives More Output
From Hemp Foundation’s Database
When understanding the environmental impact of a crop, per acre yield is a primary parameter.
Compared to cotton or other fabrics, hemp’s yield is higher. It also produces more biomass which helps return the nutrients to the soil.
Also, hemp grows quickly. One life cycle of hemp production is 90 to 120 days long. Hemp farmers can thus keep the land empty between growing seasons to let the soil replenish.
This minimizes the use of chemicals to replenish the nutrients in the soil.
No chemicals = No carbon emission in the production of those chemicals.
- Hemp Is Resilient to Pests and Diseases – No Need Of Pesticides or Fertilizers
From Hemp Foundation’s Database
Pesticides and fertilizers do more harm to the environment than they do good for the crop.
But hemp is a unique crop in this regard.
It is naturally disease-free.
It resists pests and insects too.
And curbs weed growth.
You don’t have to spray chemicals to get a healthy crop.
(It isn’t even exactly healthy because pesticide-laden plants add those chemicals to our consumption cycle when we consume or use parts of that plant.)
Less use of pesticides and fertilizers would mean that less of it is needed, the production is cut short, and then the carbon emission from the chemical production process is reduced.
- Hemp Requires Less Water – It Helps Save Water
Only 1% of water available in the environment is suitable for use. And 70% of it is used in irrigation.
That’s probably the reason why people, entire communities even, are facing an acute shortage of drinking water.
Hemp doesn’t need a continuous water supply. It is a mostly rainfed crop. So that’s good for the environment.
But how’s water consumption related to carbon emission?
Think about it this way. If hemp doesn’t need a specific irrigation system, farming hemp in a certain area won’t require dams and canals to appropriate the water in that area to the farms. Won’t that be saving energy?
And when energy is saved, CO2 emissions are cut down.
- Hemp Is Biodegradable, And You Can Recycle Hemp Clothing
From Hemp Foundation’s Database
Remember how I told you that less than 1% of all clothes are recycled? One of the reasons behind it is that most clothes are made of synthetic fiber. And they aren’t exactly recyclable.
But hemp is biodegradable.
Even if you aren’t keen on upcycling or repurposing clothes, you can get your hemp clothing recycled and then shop for the latest hemp trends guilt-free.
- Hemp Fabric is Strong and Long-Lasting – It Reduces The Need For More Because of Wear And Tear
Fast fashion is a primary contributor to carbon dioxide emissions.
One tear in your cloth, and you won’t waste a second in discarding it. While it is a valid point from your perspective, it isn’t as ideal for the environment.
But imagine if your clothes looked like-new even after regular use? That’s possible with hemp.
It is a fabric 4X as strong as cotton. With little wear and tear, it stays usable for longer.
And when you use the same cloth for longer, your overall carbon footprint would lower down further.
So, what is stopping people from growing hemp, then?
It isn’t legal in many countries. (Not all governments have yet understood the difference between hemp and marijuana).
People aren’t keen on wearing marijuana’s cousin.
Because people don’t know hemp is so good for reducing carbon footprint, they don’t feel like it is time to make the switch.
What Can YOU Do?
Hemp is great, but I cannot go and start growing it. If it isn’t available in the market, how can I make the switch?
You don’t have to grow hemp or even be a part of the production or processing to be able to help.
All you have to do is change your choice. And then…
Make Your Choice Count
When you head out to a store to shop for clothes, ask where the hemp aisle is. There won’t be many stores where you’ll find one.
But at least when you ask for it, the concerned authorities would know that there is a demand for it. And when there is a demand, organizations, fashion labels, and even the biggest of brands would start working towards meeting the demand with proportionate supply.
30% of emission from the fashion industry comes from use-phase, post-use, and downstream retail activities.
The rest 70% of emissions come from production, preparation, and processing.
Even if we assume that carbon emission from the downstream retail activities will remain constant even for hemp clothing, the 70% emission from the production, preparation, and processing will be curbed.
And you would be the driver of that change. Unless you ask for it, people like me, the sellers, and suppliers won’t be able to supply it.
Another way you can contribute to this is by signing petitions to legalize the cultivation and use of industrial hemp if it isn’t already so.
They’d be small steps, but totally worth it. Trust the butterfly effect to magnify your efforts into global change.
Taking The First Step Today
The ball is in your court now.
I have given you the solution.
Hemp can help reduce your carbon footprint.
And hemp can restore the damage that the fashion industry has done in the past.
From Hemp Foundation’s Database
All you have to do is ask for hemp clothing. Make sure your demand for hemp is heard and met.
Shop for it when you can. Take a look at our swatch book for some of the work our team has been doing, along with focus groups of rural craftswomen and seamstresses in the remote Himalayan villages of India.
A hemp revolution is underway. Join us in our movement towards a reduced carbon footprint and a better, healthier, and safe tomorrow.