Carbon in Clothing

By choosing organic materials, using a supplier with a wind powered factory, investing in low waste ink technology and building our own solar farm, our Co2 per product is significantly lower than the average high street t-shirt.

Behind these headline figures there's a range of measures at Rapanui that have intentionally and unintentionally reduced our carbon footprint. For example, we thought that CO2 would be affected most of all by energy and transport. But it turned out that the embedded carbon in pesticides and fertilisers is monumental, and as a certified organic company we have reduced our CO2 per product significantly through one simple choice: Go organic. As for the rest of the inputs like transport, processing and longevity, DEFRAs SCAP tool helped work out our CO2 and as a company we're now out a generation ahead of the 20:20 carbon vision set by the EU.

Carbon and Clothing in 10 seconds
  • Products made by Rapanui have substantially lower carbon footprint because of the organic fabrics, renewable energy powered manufacturing and low waste print technology. There's much more to be done post-purchase. In our work we have found that as much as 80% of the Co2 from clothes comes in the use phase, from washing and drying. So we've changed our washcare instructions and are working towards circular economies by starting to take old products back.

90% of consumers worldwide want more renewable energy use in manufacturing - Global Consumer Wind Study, 2011.

Making low carbon clothing: How is that even possible?
"Greenhouse gas emissions come from all over the supply chain, not just car exhausts or power stations. Sometimes, the CO2 can be thought of as embedded in the input. For example, to make one tonne of nitrogen fertiliser takes one tonne of oil, one hundred tonnes of water and creates seven tonnes of Co2."

Our t-shirts start life as organic cotton, planted in fields in northern India. Less fertiliser, pesticides and machinery means less carbon. The cotton is often transported from the fields to the ginning plant by camel.

The dye, cut and sew factory has it's own array of Vestas wind turbines. Excess is sold to the Indian grid, which is predominanty coal fired.

Our clothing is shipped to the UK, and we print everything using low-waste print technology in our factory in the UK, which is powered by renewable energy.

The biggest area of work is post-purchase, as 80% of the carbon emissions from a t-shirt come from washing and drying. We changed our washcare instructions to wash cool, hang dry. At the end of life we recover old products for recycling.

Post Purchase Environmental impact
Energy Profile for a T-shirt
Up to 80% of the impact of a t-shirt occurs after purchase.

This means the water, chemical toxicity, energy use and emissions from washing and drying your clothing. This means that if every clothing manufacturer in the world halved their eco-footprint of their supply chain, it would still only make 10% difference over the whole product life cycle. We are working towards a circular economy with our incentivised material recovery program. Our next big challenge involves the in-use phase.

  • Our brand must transcend the product and influence the post-purchase care
  • We must inform our customers about the need to Wash Cool, Hang Dry
  • And help them choose the right stuff to wash with

For now, throughout our marketing, our products, wash care labels and our site, don't be surprised if we remind you to Wash Cool, Hang Dry.

Why do we need to bother with Carbon in clothing?

Greenhouse gases change our weather, our eco systems and our economies. The UK government funded Stern review was the biggest study of it's kind assessing the economic cost of climate change to the UK. The Review states that climate change is the greatest and widest-ranging market failure ever seen, presenting a unique challenge for economics. It found the benefits of strong, early action on climate change far outweigh the costs of not acting. Without action, the overall costs of climate change, including a wider range of risks and impacts could cost 20% of GDP or more each year indefinitely.

According to a May 2011 study by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the global potential for renewable energy is substantially higher than the current and future projected global demand for energy. In other words, it is easily possible to develop enough renewable sources (wind, sun and waves) to meet all of the world’s energy needs.

Climate change is a problem that can be solved. Luckily, according to the Global Consumer Wind Study which polled 31,000 consumers in 26 countries, the people understand: Consumers worldwide see climate change as the greatest single global challenge. 90% are to a great degree willing to buy and recommend products or brands using renewable energy. Yet in order for them to make informed purchasing decisions, they also want more information about the use of renewable energy in the production of the brands they purchase. Brands need to use renewable energy, and communicate it, and the people will respond.


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