REAL joined the Global Fashion Agenda (GFA) webinar “Earth Logic – Grow out of Growth” on 13 October 2020 as part of the Copenhagen Fashion Summit (CFS).
The CFS is organised by GFA, a non-profit leadership forum on a mission to make sustainability fashion’s first priority. As a thought leadership and advocacy organisation, GFA’s focus is on industry collaboration and public-private cooperation to mobilise and guide the fashion industry to take bold and urgent action on sustainability.
Author of Earth Logic, Kate Fletcher, was in discussion with REAL’s Safia Minney, ecological economist Giorgos Kallis and journalist Daniel Penny. The discussion was moderated by Mathilda Tham, professor from Linneus University in Sweden and co-author of Earth Logic.
Earth Logic and less
Kate remarked that in response to those calling for growth, we should ask the questions posed by pioneering environmentalist and systems thinker Donella Meadows: “growth of what, and why, and for whom, and who pays the cost, and how long can it last, and what’s the cost to the planet, and how much is enough?” Two years ago the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) suggested that we have less than a decade to avert the disastrous, irrevocable effects of climate breakdown. We therefore need a decade of shifting to less.
Nine months ago, at London Fashion Week, the Earth Logic Fashion Action Research Plan was launched. It identifies the core problem to achieving net-zero as over-consumption and over-production driven by the logic of economic growth. The plan is applicable not only to the fashion sector. Fundamental to the plan is the premise that social justice and a healthy planet cannot be achieved by tweaks to the current system. The webinar focuses on the most challenging proposal in the Earth Logic Plan – the shift to less resulting in a smaller fashion sector as well as other extractive sectors.
Earth Logic is a radical invitation to governments, businesses, educators, media and citizens for a planet-first approach putting earth as the priority above everything including profit. We need to be asking what the sustainability case is for business not the business case for sustainability. Change cannot be incremental; we need what has been called a great transition transforming the central tenet of our current system, growth.
Kate argues that gains achieved through product change and systems change, although important, will be outweighed by increasing consumption. We need a transformation of mindset and culture. The discussion focuses on just one of the so-called “landscapes” in the Earth Logic plan – less.
Giorgos talks about the current economic model which is based on GDP growth. If we consider a modest growth rate of 3% a year, by 2100 the economy will be twelve times bigger than it is now. This is totally unsustainable; we are already over-extracting from the earth currently taking out about 90 billion tonnes of materials annually. He proposes economies need to be fundamentally changed. He refers to the economy of the commons, collective production and the consumption of sharing. There must also be a focus on justice with sharing and redistribution to address the massive inequalities that exist. Giorgos believes there needs to be a shift from producing unnecessary excess to securing our basic needs. The importance of this has become clear as a result of the COVID-19 crisis. For those expressing concern about the impact on jobs of producing less, Giorgos argues for a change in cultural mindset. We need to view having less work to do as a positive outcome. We also need to share work more equitably. Workers in developing countries affected by producing less will be employed meeting the basic needs of their communities
less in fashion
Safia considers the “less” paradigm in the context of fashion. She counters the argument that contracting the fashion sector will adversely affect farmers and garment makers by referencing the fact that typically only 3% of the so-called FOB (freight on board) price relates to labour. She advocates producing less but with greater value addition. Production can also be much kinder to the planet through, for example, the use of organic cotton and regenerative agriculture. As markets in the global North reduce in size, developing countries can play a key role supplying sustainable fibres and fabrics and adding value through, for example, traditional craft skills. Safia also sees markets developing between countries in the global South. Looking forward, we need to be producing clothing in ways that respect both people and planet. Fashion has a particularly important role to play in maintaining healthy soils which are able to sequester carbon.
the media's role
Daniel talks about the need to reject the label of “consumers” and identify ourselves as “makers”, “curators” or even “guardians of resources”. The conversation around consumption is mostly led by the media which currently effectively provides press releases for brands. He suggests alternative funding models, for example based on grants and collaboration with universities, would bring about change away from advertising. Daniel sees the media having a role in asking citizens to be more imaginative in how they relate to their clothes by reporting on mending, recycling and up-cycling. The appetite is there – Daniel is seeing a significant shift amongst Millennials and GenZ towards second-hand clothes.