Delving Into the Links Between the Sustainable Development Goals and the Fashion Industry in Australia

This article is the first in a series describing the links between the Sustainable Development Goals and Australia’s textile, clothing and footwear industry. In this article we explore how the SDGs provide an opportunity for the fashion industry to work with other stakeholders to progress the achievement of the SDGs.

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WORDS | Julie Boulton & Aleasha McCallion, Monash Sustainable Development Institute

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The Sustainable Development Goals

The Sustainable Development Goals, also known as the SDGs or the Global Goals, were agreed to by the world, including Australia, in 2015. Through 17 separate but interlinked goals, covering economic, environmental and social issues, the SDGs map out a future that the world needs. It’s a future that we want too: clean water and sanitation, quality education, healthcare, no poverty and decent work are just a few of the topics covered by the SDGs. While fashion/TCF is not specifically mentioned, the fashion/TCF industry has a direct relationship to the SDGs. In fact, by using the framework of the SDGs, fashion can directly contribute to a better, safer and healthier planet.

The goals and their targets are a guide for change. They apply to fashion because every decision made along the product supply chain has impacts on the health of our planet. Starting with the fibre selection (cotton, organic cotton, polyester or tencel as examples – all vary in their impacts), the manufacturing process (how is the factory powered; what are the working conditions of the employees), the packaging and distribution method (what are the carbon emission impacts of a product), the consumption (how does the consumer care for a garment in the use phase) and ultimately the disposal of an item – all of these issues directly link to one or more of the Sustainable Development Goals.

A key point to make about the SDGs is that they have universal application - they apply to everyone everywhere. They don’t exist just for “others”, i.e., anyone but us, but rather they apply to us, here in Australia. This is exciting because it means we – being governments, non-government organisations, academia, businesses and individuals - can all actively contribute to achieving the SDGs. The Transforming Australia SDG Progress Report[1] is an example of measuring our progress in Australia against a selected number of targets: we are doing well against some but on others there is certainly room for improvement.

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Understanding how the SDGs apply to the fashion industry

Where to start? Given the range of targets within the goals, it can be a bit overwhelming to review them and their many indicators. We believe it is going to take collaboration and innovation to meet the targets needed. But, to start, it’s important to get to know the SDGs within the context of the fashion/TCF industry and business.  

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SDG 6 provides an example of the application of the SDGs to the fashion industry.

The goal of SDG 6 is to: “Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.” There are 8 targets under SDG 6 (and 11 indicators).

Let’s look at targets 6.3 and 6.4.

6.3 By 2030, improve water quality by reducing pollution, eliminating dumping and minimizing release of hazardous chemicals and materials, halving the proportion of untreated wastewater and substantially increasing recycling and safe reuse globally

6.4 By 2030, substantially increase water-use efficiency across all sectors and ensure sustainable withdrawals and supply of freshwater to address water scarcity and substantially reduce the number of people suffering from water scarcity

We know that manufacturing and caring for garments has significant impacts on water resources, for example:

  • Between 1800 and 6800 litres of water are used to grow, dye and process the cotton for one pair of blue jeans[1];

  • 93 billion cubic metres of water, enough for 5 million people to survive, is used by the fashion industry every year[2]; and

  • 20% of wastewater globally is produced by the fashion industry[3].

 Given these statistics, clothing and textile manufacturing has an opportunity to assist efforts by other stakeholders and work towards progressing the SDG 6 targets, specifically 6.3 and 6.4: reducing water usage per garment, or treating and reusing wastewater onsite, can improve both the quality and consumption of water.  

(In upcoming articles we will look at SDG 6 in more detail as well as highlighting other SDGs in which the fashion industry can play a direct role and impact overall progress.)

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The SDGs are an Opportunity

Innovation within the fashion/TCF industry can unlock and enable unique solutions and demonstrate an important and significant transition to a more sustainable model of production and consumption. The actions we all choose to take are intricately linked with the progress that the world is making to meet the Sustainable Development Goals.

 To read more about SDGs look here:

To see Australia’s overall progress on SDGs, look here:

AND GET YOUR EARS ACROSS CLARE PRESS’ WARDROBE CRISIS PODCAST, EPISODE 87 WITH CAMERON SAUL, WHICH COVERS THIS VERY SUBJECT:

This article is thanks to Julie Boulton & Aleasha McCallion from Monash Sustainable Development Institute, Monash University. Stay tuned from more from this series as they delve into the SDG’s in detail over the coming months, and join the conversation on Twitter at @MonashMSDI

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 [1] The Transforming Australia SDG Progress Report provides an online dashboard assessing progress against the SDGs. It is a joint project between the National Sustainable Development Council, Monash University, Monash Sustainable Development Institute and SDSN Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific. For further information go to this site, https://www.sdgtransformingaustralia.com/#/1247/1310//

[1] Fluence, retrived from https://www.fluencecorp.com/blue-jeans-water-footprint/

[2] UNCTAD, retrived from https://news.un.org/en/story/2019/03/1035161

[3] UN Economic Commission for Europe 2018, retrieved from

https://www.unece.org/info/media/news/forestry-and-timber/2018/fashion-is-an-environmental-and-

social-emergency-but-can-also-drive-progress-towards-the-sustainable-development-goals/doc.html