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Blog: How A Circular Fashion Economy Can Tackle Climate Change

Blog: How a circular fashion economy can tackle climate change

Brussels, 13 November 2019: Strong Circular Economy policies create a thriving circular fashion industry and help tackling climate change. Setting the scene for a new series of blogs

By Josefine Koehler, Policy Advisor at

This is the first blog post of a new series called “Policy instruments for a circular fashion economy”, in which dives deeper into five “pillars” for creating a circular fashion industry, as described in our Circular Fashion Advocacy Report, released in March.1 We kick off by setting the scene and actual context, which even more urgently demands a systemic change in the fashion sector enabled by strong circular economy policies.

Climate concerns have risen to the top of the EU agenda

Within recent months, European citizens have become seriously concerned for the impacts of climate change, which is why the topic has risen to the top of the EU political agenda. The transition to a low-carbon circular economy is not only good for the EU economy in terms of jobs, economic value and resilience, it is also needed to meet the climate goals to move towards a zero-net carbon economy. This is why welcomes the European Green Deal initiative of Von der Leyen and Timmermans. Europe may take a lead in the transition to a new economy and while doing so, instigate other continents to follow.

What does it imply to create a low-carbon circular economy?

A transition to a low-carbon circular economy implies a radical change in our patterns of consumption and production. About 50 per cent of CO2 emissions is related to products and materials.2,3 To tackle those, it is important to create a business case for the industry to change towards circular design. However, as yet, outside a few niche markets, there is a lack of market demand for such circular products and services, which hinders the creation of a business case. In addition, there are many other obstacles, including a lack of transparency throughout the value chain.1

What sector to start with?

In Brussels, where about 40% of new regulations in Europe are being designed and decided on, textiles has recently become a new focus, as lately confirmed by the European Council and the European Commission. It is invariably mentioned in discussions, panels, conferences or workshops, no matter if they are about environmental issues, circular economy or the SDGs. While other focus sectors such as plastics and the built environment remain important, textiles is the first one concerning consumer products. The sector includes the production of fibre materials as well as the manufacture of products made from fibres, such as apparel, footwear, carpets, curtains and furniture. The apparel and footwear markets alone are responsible for 8 per cent of the overall global greenhouse gas emissions.4 Moreover, in addition to social issues including poor labour conditions in producing countries, a staggering 73 per cent of materials used for clothing are sent to landfill or are incinerated, with less than just 1 per cent of the fibres recycled, while plastic microfibres released from clothes in the laundry machine are polluting the oceans.1,7 More than USD 500 billion of value is lost every year due to clothing underutilisation and the lack of recycling.7

What is Europe’s contribution to the fashion sector?

Europe as second smallest continent by size, but third largest by population, contributes to a big part to this figure: it is one of the leading clothing importers and exporters.5 Within almost one decade, the consumption of clothes per person has increased by 40 per cent.6 Nowadays, 30 per cent of clothing is unused for at least a year.6 Clothing is estimated to be responsible for up to 10 per cent of global environmental impacts through EU consumption, even if the majority of impacts occur in third and developing countries, where most of the fibres are grown and produced.6

Where lies the solution? – Policy!

Fashion concerns every single consumer, as we all wear clothes. The fashion industry has therefore two main potentials: first, it is a frontrunning end-consumer sector that turns circular and serves this way as example for other sectors with complex and/or global supply chains. And second, it plays a key role in levelling down the other 50 per cent of the global emissions.

This change can be driven by effective policies enabling a circular fashion economy. A level playing field in which circular can fairly compete with linear can be created by introducing a policy framework offering the right boundary conditions, including mandatory true pricing. To achieve this, recommends a policy mix of the following five pillars:1

  1. Innovation policies
  2. Economic incentives (procurement, Extended Producer Responsibility, VAT and tax shift)
  3. Regulation (ecodesign and transparency)
  4. Trade policies
  5. Voluntary agreements.

We are looking forward to the Circular Economy Package 2.0 as part of the European Green Deal, and advocate to tackle all of the five pillars to create an effective framework for change. Meanwhile, in our next blog post we will deep dive in our first policy pillar: Innovation policies.


1 Ecopreneur (2019). Circular Fashion Advocacy – A Strategy towards a Circular Fashion Industry in Europe. Report. Available at:

2 Ecopreneur (2019). Strong Circular Economy policies needed to meet the climate goals. Press release. Available at:

3 Ellen MacArthur Foundation 1 (2019). Completing the Picture – How the Circular Economy tackles Climate Change. Retrieved from

4 Quantis (2018). Measuring Fashion – Environmental Impact of the Global Apparel and Footware Industries Study. Retrieved from

5 World Trade Organisation (2018). Statistical tables. p. 143 f. Retrieved from

6 European Parliament (2019). Environmental Impacts of the Textiles and Clothing Industry. Retrieved from

7 Ellen MacArthur Foundation 2 (2019). A new Textile Economy. Retrieved from

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