Saturday, February 6, 2010

Footprints in the sand...

As part of my ongoing work on the fabric wiki, I have been researching so-called "eco-friendly" fabrics and the issues that surround them. This makes fascinating reading (see my wiki article on this for more details). It turns out there is no "perfect" eco-fabric - all of them have issues (even recycled fabrics), despite what some people on the net seem to believe. That said, it is possible to make intelligent choices that can put pressure on the system to change for the better.

What I found particularly interesting, though, is the whole notion of a "footprint". First of all, there seem to be several footprint concepts being used now, including the "ecological footprint", the "carbon footprint", even the "water footprint" or the "energy footprint", with a certain amount of confusion as to what each represents. Although we probably hear more about the carbon footprint, the most general concept is actually the ecological footprint. The ecological footprint is the amount of land that would be needed to produce and/or absorb the materials needed and/or generated by our activities. The reason for the "slashes" in this statement is that land is required to make things, but the pollution or garbage generated by our activities (and the nature of the world means that waste products are ALWAYS generated by activities) also requires land support. This notion of footprint is hence, truly a footprint - it is expressed in surface area that activity generates. The footprint per capita is then multiplied by the total population of the Earth to determine the total surface area needed to support all our current activities. Well, it turns out that we would need, roughly 1,5 planet Earth's to support current activity levels. In other terms, we are using up the planet's resources faster than they can be renewed. This is NOT a GOOD state of affairs for future generations.

Interesting, and perhaps surprisingly to many, our use of fabric is a primary component of our overly large ecological footprint. The textile industry is a heavy polluter as well as an energy gourmand, and the result is a direct contribution of something near 15 to 20% of our ecological footprint, due mainly, of course, to the use of fabrics in the developed world (Europe and North America). It should be noted that the ecological footprint of the developed world rings in at five (5!) planet Earths - we are using resources five times faster than the planet can renew itself. Therefore, the 15% to 20% contributed by the world of fabrics actually represents one whole Earth ON ITS OWN. This is a serious problem, and one that those of us interested in sewing and fashion need to be aware of and doing something about!

This means not just what and how we buy, but also how we talk about and promote fashion, how we engage with the community, and so forth.

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