The Environmental Impacts of Clothing: Evidence from United States and Three European Countries

Joshua Sohn, Kristian S. Nielsen*, Morten Birkved, Tina Joanes, Wencke Gwozdz

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review

Abstract

Because of the near doubling of clothing purchased and the shift toward fast fashion in recent decades, clothing induces increasingly significant global environmental impacts throughout its entire life cycle. To measure the environmental impacts of clothing across the major life cycle phases of production, purchase, transportation, usage, and disposal, we apply life cycle assessment (LCA) to detailed survey data on jeans and t-shirt consumption by 4,591 consumers across four countries: Germany, Poland, Sweden, and the United States. The results reveal that, except for jeans in the United States, the production phase is consistently responsible for the largest share of the environmental impacts associated with clothing. Nevertheless, the use phase, which includes washing and drying, also induces sizable environmental impacts, especially when laundering is frequent and, as in Poland and the United States, the associated electricity consumption comes from carbon-intensive energy sources. Taken together, our results suggest that future efforts to reduce the environmental impacts of clothing must comprehensively address the production, acquisition, and use of clothing through not only technological and efficiency improvements but changes in both purchasing and usage behavior.
Original languageEnglish
JournalSustainable Production and Consumption
Volume27
Pages (from-to)2153-2164
Number of pages12
ISSN2352-5509
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2021

Keywords

  • Clothing
  • Environmental impacts
  • Consumer behavior
  • Clothing consumption and production
  • Life cycle assessment

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