I had the rare opportunity to go to the mall last weekend, and while browsing the racks in Express, I noticed an interesting tag on some of the items of clothing. It said, “Conscious Edit: A sustainable collection dedicated to a better tomorrow for people and the planet.” According to the company’s website, the sustainable clothing collection has the modest goals of sourcing 20% of its fabrics “consciously,” making 75% of its denim products with “conscious materials,” and conserving 50 million gallons of water by 2026. Although some of these terms are certainly open to interpretation, I find these goals to be rather remarkable, bearing in mind that many consumers would consider Express to be a fast-fashion outlet (i.e., trendy, somewhat disposable clothing).
Doing some quick browsing on the subject, it seems that many of the traditional fast-fashion outlets that you will find in nearly any mall in America — Gap, H&M, Zara — are beginning to embrace sustainability (or they at least have webpages dedicated to this subject). None of these aforementioned brands, however, have been certified as climate neutral based on the nonprofit Climate Neutral’s rigorous certification process. That organization has recognized 65 fashion and apparel brands as Climate Neutral Certified, which asserts that the brand in question has measured the carbon emissions from making and delivering their products to consumers, offset those emissions through the purchase of carbon credits (which fund projects from reforestation to renewable energy), and pledged to reduce future emissions. I’m not familiar with most of the brand names on the list of 65, although a few names, including Allbirds and Reformation, are recognizable.
The fact that the fashion industry — which for decades has thrived on the fast-fashion paradigm of buy-wear-dispose — is moving toward more sustainable practices highlights a shift in the thinking (and, likely, buying patterns) of the general public. Consumers are interested in sustainability; they want to know where their clothing comes from, how the materials are sourced, and how those who are constructing the garments are being treated.
For chemical engineers, the concepts of carbon offsetting, water conservation, and emissions reductions are nothing new. But now more than ever, sustainability has come to the forefront in the chemical process industries (CPI) in the U.S., especially with President Biden’s pledge to achieve a net-zero economy by 2050.
Sustainability takes center stage in this issue of CEP. Articles in the Special Section on Sustainability (pp. 18–46) focus on the current status of sustainability policy, the importance of lifecycle assessment in creating sustainable processes and products, and the industries being driven by sustainable initiatives — including solar energy, battery energy storage, and sustainable aviation fuels.
I hope you learn something new from this special section, and perhaps, become inspired to look into the sustainability goals of your favorite brands.
Emily Petruzzelli, Editor-in-Chief
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