The Role of Policy in Promoting Sustainable Fashion

The fashion industry is undergoing a transformative shift towards sustainability, driven not only by consumer demand but also by governmental and policy initiatives.

As one of the largest global industries, fashion significantly impacts the environment, from carbon emissions to water usage and waste production. To address these challenges, policies at various levels—local, national, and international—are essential.

3This article explores how policy is shaping sustainable fashion, highlights key legislation, and discusses the future of regulatory efforts in the industry.

The Environmental Impact of Fashion

The fashion industry is responsible for approximately 10% of global carbon emissions and nearly 20% of wastewater. The production processes for textiles and clothing involve the use of hazardous chemicals, significant water consumption, and the generation of textile waste.

Fast fashion, characterized by rapid production cycles and low-cost garments, exacerbates these issues by encouraging overconsumption and disposability.

Key Statistics:

  • According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, the equivalent of one garbage truck of textiles is landfilled or incinerated every second.
  • The World Bank estimates that textile dyeing and treatment contribute to 20% of global industrial water pollution.
  • The fashion industry uses about 93 billion cubic meters of water annually, enough to meet the needs of five million people.

Government Policies and Initiatives

1. The European Green Deal The European Union (EU) has been a frontrunner in promoting sustainable fashion through the European Green Deal. This comprehensive plan aims to make Europe the first climate-neutral continent by 2050. The Circular Economy Action Plan, a key component of the Green Deal, targets the fashion industry by promoting the use of sustainable materials, reducing waste, and encouraging recycling and reuse.

2. The Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) Several countries have implemented or are considering EPR schemes, which hold producers accountable for the entire lifecycle of their products, including disposal and recycling. France, for example, mandates that fashion companies contribute to the costs of collecting and recycling textiles.

3. The Fashion Act (New York) In the United States, New York’s proposed Fashion Sustainability and Social Accountability Act, known as the Fashion Act, aims to set a new standard for transparency and accountability in the fashion industry. The act would require fashion companies with revenues over $100 million to disclose their environmental and social impacts, set science-based targets to reduce carbon emissions, and provide detailed reports on their supply chains.

4. The Garment Sector Accord (Bangladesh) Following the Rana Plaza collapse in 2013, Bangladesh implemented the Garment Sector Accord to improve safety and working conditions in the fashion industry. While primarily focused on labor rights, the Accord also includes provisions for sustainable practices, such as energy efficiency and waste management.

International Agreements and Frameworks

The United Nations Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action

Launched in 2018, the UN Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action is a global initiative that brings together fashion stakeholders to address climate change. Signatories commit to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, promoting circularity, and improving energy efficiency throughout their supply chains.

The Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC)

The SAC, a global alliance of retailers, brands, and manufacturers, developed the Higg Index, a suite of tools that measure the environmental and social impacts of apparel and footwear products. The Higg Index provides a standardized approach for assessing sustainability and encourages transparency and continuous improvement.

The Role of Policy in Driving Change

1. Setting Standards and Regulations Policies play a crucial role in establishing standards and regulations that compel the fashion industry to adopt sustainable practices. By setting clear guidelines for environmental performance, governments can drive innovation and ensure compliance across the sector.

2. Encouraging Transparency and Accountability Legislation that mandates transparency and accountability, such as the Fashion Act, ensures that companies disclose their environmental and social impacts. This transparency allows consumers to make informed choices and holds companies accountable for their sustainability commitments.

3. Promoting Research and Innovation Government funding and incentives for research and innovation can accelerate the development of sustainable materials and technologies. For example, the EU’s Horizon 2020 program supports projects that aim to reduce the environmental impact of textiles and fashion.

4. Supporting Circular Economy Initiatives Policies that promote circular economy principles, such as recycling, reuse, and repair, are essential for reducing waste and extending the lifecycle of fashion products. Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) schemes and recycling mandates are examples of such policies.

Industry Perspectives Carla, a sustainability manager at a major fashion brand, shares her perspective on the impact of policy: “Government policies have been instrumental in pushing us towards more sustainable practices. The regulations in Europe, in particular, have set a high bar that we strive to meet. It’s not just about compliance; it’s about leading the way in sustainability and showing our customers that we are committed to making a positive impact.

Challenges and Future Directions

While significant progress has been made, several challenges remain in the pursuit of sustainable fashion:

Enforcement and Compliance
Ensuring compliance with sustainability regulations can be challenging, especially in countries with limited regulatory infrastructure. Robust monitoring and enforcement mechanisms are essential to ensure that policies achieve their intended impact.

Global Coordination
The fashion industry operates on a global scale, with supply chains spanning multiple countries. Coordinated international efforts are necessary to harmonize standards and ensure that sustainability initiatives are effective across borders.

Balancing Economic and Environmental Goals
Policymakers must balance economic growth with environmental sustainability. Supporting the transition to sustainable fashion may require financial incentives and support for businesses, especially small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

Consumer Awareness and Demand
Ultimately, consumer awareness and demand drive the success of sustainable fashion initiatives. Policies that promote education and awareness about the environmental impact of fashion can empower consumers to make more sustainable choices.

Policy plays a pivotal role in promoting sustainable fashion by setting standards, encouraging transparency, and supporting innovation. As governments and international organizations continue to develop and implement policies aimed at reducing the environmental impact of the fashion industry, the future of sustainable fashion looks promising.

By working together, policymakers, industry stakeholders, and consumers can drive meaningful change and create a more sustainable and ethical fashion industry.


  1. Ellen MacArthur Foundation: A New Textiles Economy: Redesigning Fashion’s Future
  2. European Commission: Circular Economy Action Plan
  3. World Bank: The Environmental Impact of the Apparel Industry
  4. UNFCCC. Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action
  5. New York State Senate: Fashion Sustainability and Social Accountability Act
  6. Sustainable Apparel Coalition: The Higg Index
  7. The Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh: About the Accord