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Circular Economy & Fashion: Operationalising SDG 12

Welcome back to our series delving into the links between the Sustainable Development Goals and Australia’s textile, clothing and footwear (TCF) industry. This is a second article that explores the role the TCF industry can play in achieving SDG 12, Responsible Consumption and Production. SDG 12 has many applications to the TCF industry. This article is focusing on the ‘sustainable management and efficient use of natural resources’ targets through a circular economy.

by The AFC

13 December 2019



Circular Economy & Fashion: The Role the TCF Industry can Play in Operationalising SDG 12

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

Welcome back to our series delving into the links between the Sustainable Development Goals and Australia’s textile, clothing and footwear (TCF) industry. This is a second article that explores the role the TCF industry can play in achieving SDG 12, Responsible Consumption and Production. SDG 12 has many applications to the TCF industry. This article is focusing on the ‘sustainable management and efficient use of natural resources’ targets through a circular economy.

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Understanding the background to and the impetus for circular economy principles to be embedded within the TCF industry.

 In November, AFC signed The Fashion for Global Climate Action Charter (the Charter). The Charter calls on the fashion industry to acknowledge the contribution of the sector to climate change and our responsibility to strive towards climate neutrality for a safer planet.

Signing is significant. As AFC notes, “Through collective action and bold leadership, we have the power to make this fast and drastic transformation. By signing the Charter, AFC make a public commitment to playing our part to ensure the Australian and Global fashion sector is on the path to a low-carbon future.”

Amongst a range of commitments, signatories to the Charter affirm their commitment to: “Support the movement towards circular business models and acknowledge the positive impact this will have towards reducing GHG emissions within the fashion sector” (Article 10). The circular economy as a model of production has gained significant momentum globally in recent years for policy makers, businesses and academics: it is seen to offer an economically prosperous opportunity balanced with environmental and social sustainability. It is also implicitly included in Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 12, the goal on sustainable production and consumption.


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History of responsible consumption and production

Sustainable production and consumption are not new ideas. Agenda 21, the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, and the Statement of principles for the Sustainable Management of Forests were adopted by more than 178 Governments at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in 1992. The Declaration included a chapter on “Changing Consumption Patterns” which contained two programme areas: Focusing on unsustainable patterns of production and consumption; and Developing national policies and strategies to encourage changes in unsustainable consumption patterns.

The Oslo Symposium on Sustainable Consumption, held two years later, defined sustainable consumption and production (SCP) as being about:

“the use of services and related products, which respond to basic needs and bring a better quality of life while minimising the use of natural resources and toxic materials as well as the emissions of waste and pollutants over the life cycle of the service or product so as not to jeopardise the needs of further generations”. [1]

In 2002, the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation, adopted at the World Summit on Sustainable Development, identified SCP as one of the three overarching objectives for sustainable development (the other two being poverty eradication and the management of natural resources in order to foster economic and social development). The Johannesburg Plan called on all stakeholders to

"Encourage and promote the development of a 10-year framework of programmes (10YFP) in support of regional and national initiatives to accelerate the shift towards sustainable consumption and production to promote social and economic development within the carrying capacity of ecosystems”. [2]

The 2012 Rio+20 Conference, recognised the 10YFP in its declaration titled, “Future We Want.”

In 2015, the SGDs (SDGs), included SCP as part of SDG 12, responsible production and consumption.

The targets of SDG 12 include:

● Implement the 10YFP, all countries take action, with developed countries taking the lead, taking into account the development and capabilities of developing countries; and

● By 2030, achieve the sustainable management and efficient use of natural resources.


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Implementing SDG 12 through a Circular Economy lens

Developing a circular economy is one way that SDG 12 can be effectively operationalised. Like responsible consumption and production, the concept of circular economy is not new [3] and it is a fairly simple concept. It refers to: “an economic system that replaces ‘end-of-life’ concept with reducing, alternatively reusing, recycling and recovering materials in production/ distribution and consumption processes.” [4]

Practically speaking, a circular economy is “achieved through long-lasting design, maintenance, repair, reuse, remanufacturing, refurbishing and recycling”. [5] By doing this, we effectively meet the targets of SDG 12 - we produce and consume in a responsible, sustainable manner.

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International adoption of circularity

There has been a steady increase in interest by national and regional policy makers to develop circular economy principles and policies. In the first instance Germany and then the EU, and China as well as Japan have all launched their own circular economy policies [6].

The European environment —state and outlook 2020 report just published in early December states that “recently, policies have started to improve the framework conditions for a circular economy, albeit with the main focus on waste. In order to fully realise the potential benefits, it will be crucial to design materials and products in a way that enables durability, reuse, repair and upgrading, refurbishment, remanufacturing and recycling, and that prevents contamination of material cycle” and “increasing resource efficiency, preventing waste generation and using waste as a resource are at the core of the circular economy, and have considerable potential to reduce environmental pressures“. [7]

Industries are increasingly seeing circular economy models as applicable. The TCF industry is one such industry that is, globally, considering the value and applicability of circularity. In part, this has been led by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, with its 2017 report, A new textiles economy: Redesigning fashion’s future. This report called for the fashion industry to adopt a new vision, a circular one at that, and create cross-industry collaborations to achieve it. Recently Ellen MacArthur Foundation launched The Jeans Redesign Guidelines, which sets out minimum requirements on garment durability, material health, recyclability, and traceability: “The guidelines will work to ensure jeans last longer, can easily be recycled, and are made in a way that is better for the environment and the health of garment workers.” [8]

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Australia’s TCF and circularity

2019 in the Australian TCF sector has been a momentous year for circularity and sustainability; one built on the shoulders of several years prior, full of persistent curiosity, exploration, determination and learning by many. There has been more industry conferences and events - including Legacy, RawAssembly, Australian Circular Fashion Conference, Undress - focused on these topics in 2019 than ever before.

TCF industry brands, businesses, associations and working groups have both continued and initiated investment of time and resources into establishing strategies, knowledge acquisition, networks and business practice in this space due to a range of drivers. AFC signing of the Charter is one more indicator of the commitment of the local industry, and our academic institutions are also ramping up research in this space, dedicated to continuing to grow local expertise, improve baseline data and information for the Australian context.

Continuing momentum towards circularity will be assisted by new circular economy policies both in development and early implementation stages across Australia including in New South Wales, and Victoria which is planned for publication shortly. Additionally, other states such as South Australia have developed robust discussion publications around the benefits of circular economy in action. There is also strong support for knowledge sharing and formal Australian collaborations with global leaders in circularity such as the Netherlands who have committed to being circular by 2050.

Already, 2020 is shaping up to be more transformative in scope and we are excited to see where Australia takes it collectively.


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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

 To read more about SDGs look here:

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


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REFERENCES

1 & 2 | https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/topics/sustainableconsumptionandproduction

3 | Circular economy as a concept has been in development since the 1970s. It has been influenced by a range of theories and ideas including: cradle-to-cradle, looped and performance economy, regenerative design, industrial ecology, biomimicry and blue economy (Geissdoerfer et al. 2017).

4 | In 2017, a review of 114 definitions of circular economy was conducted in order to clarify the concept (Kirchherr et al 2017). This review resulted in a comprehensive definition for circular economy as:

“an economic system that replaces ‘end-of-life’ concept with reducing, alternatively reusing, recycling and recovering materials in production/ distribution and consumption processes. It operates at the micro level (products, companies, consumers), meso level (eco-industrial parks) and macro level (city, region, nation and beyond), with the aim to accomplish sustainable development, thus simultaneously creating environmental quality, economic prosperity and social equity, to the benefit of current and future generations. It is enabled by novel business models and responsible consumers”.  

The review also confirmed that the Ellen McArthur Foundation definition - “a framework for re-design and the idea of shifting from our ultimately limited linear economy to one that is regenerative by nature” - is one of the most utilised and popular versions (even if often abridged).

5 & 6 | https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jclepro.2016.12.048

7 | https://www.eea.europa.eu/publications/soer-2020

8 | https://www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/our-work/activities/make-fashion-circular/projects/the-jeans-redesign

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