Low Carbon Textiles & Fashion

Decarbonization Avenue : Low Carbon Textiles & Fashion

The textile & apparel sector is responsible for emitting over 2 billion tons of CO2 emissions annually, about 4% of the total CO2 emissions. A significant portion of CO2 emissions happen upstream in the supply chain - cotton cultivation alone is responsible for about 220 million tons of CO2 per annum, about 10% of the industry’s total emissions. Polyester production for textiles emits about three times as much CO2 as that of cotton.

At the other end of the value chain is textile waste. Over 100 billion units of apparel and about 15 billion pairs of shoes are purchased every year, translating to well over 10 pieces of apparel per person and about 2 pairs of shoes. Such large numbers per capita also mean that significant amounts of waste are generated, with a large portion of them going to the landfill, giving rise to additional emissions.

Decarbonization solutions for the textile and apparel sector need to be implemented at many points along its value chain. Solutions to grow cotton with far less CO2 emissions are being attempted; and at the same time, using a less resource intensive crop like hemp to replace cotton is also being explored. Downstream of the value chain, efforts are on to significantly increase the recycling rate of textiles, and a small but fast growing sharing and renting economy could both cut down the amount of apparel purchases and the amount of waste going to the landfill.

Decarbonizing the textile and apparel sector could be a lot more challenging than it appears because of the challenge in replacing cotton as the main natural fiber, and also because of the difficulty in changing people’s fast fashion habits and lifestyles.

For the 2020-2030 period, innovations in textile sector decarbonization are likely in textiles rentals & sharing, more modular apparel for ease of disassembly, textile waste management, performance enhancement, energy efficient methods for yarn and fabric production, plant-based leather, use of digital tools for eliminating waste and excess purchase (including virtualization of fashion), repair and alterations, and software for recyclable design.

Decarbonization potential

The textile & apparel sector is responsible for emitting about 2 billion tons of CO2 emissions annually, just under 4% of the total CO2 emissions. A significant portion of CO2 emissions happen upstream in the supply chain, with fiber production (including crop cultivation and synthetic fiber production) contributing about 40% of the total emissions (about 800 million tons of CO2 per year). Of this, cotton cultivation alone is responsible for about 220 million tons of CO2 emissions per annum.

Emissions from yarn, fabric and apparel production constitute about 30% of industry emissions (about 600 million tons), and about 20% of emissions are from textile & apparel use (400 million tons).

Decarbonization potential is more significant in the upstream portion of the value chain (from fiber cultivation/synthetic production until fabric production & dyeing), and this portion of the value chain contributes about 65% of total industry emissions. However, different solutions will be needed for decarbonizing the different portions of the value chain - while cutting down emissions from cotton cultivation could require solutions such as precision farming or farmer capacity building, cutting down emissions from yarn/fabric production could rely on energy & resource efficiency pathways and use of renewable energy.

Reducing emissions from the textile & apparel use phase will be far more challenging as this will need not just technology changes, but also changes in user behaviour and habits.

Industries impacted

  • Agriculture & farming
  • Chemicals & petrochemicals
  • Livestock
  • Marketing & communications
  • Packaging & plastics
  • Paper & forest products
  • Textile & apparel
  • Trading & distribution
  • Waste management
  • Water

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Themes & Topics

  • Decarbonization in

    • Fiber crop cultivation

    • Animal husbandry (for wool & leather)

    • Synthetic fiber production

    • Fabric production & finishing

    • Garment production

    • Apparel use

    • Apparel recycling

    • Logistics

  • Apparel & accessory design

  • Natural fibers

    • Cotton

    • Jute

    • Hemp

    • Wool

  • Synthetic fibers

    • Polyester

    • Nylon

  • Non-wovens

  • Apparel recycling

    • Mechanical recycling

    • Chemical recycling

    • Upcycling

    • Repurposing 












  • Apparel

    • Garments

    • Under-garments

    • Hosiery

    • Leather-based apparel

  • Accessories

    • Bags

    • Footwear

    • Gems & jewelry

  • Business models

    • Apparel rentals

    • Second hand / used apparel

  • Decarbonization through

    • Renewable Energy

    • Energy Efficiency

    • Waste Management

    • Alternative Materials

    • Water use efficiency

    • Carbon capture or use

  • Awareness & education

  • Multi-stakeholder collaboration

  • Policies

  • Use of IT & digital

  • Testing & standards













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