CO2, Fall 2019! Fashion Weeks' Steep Environmental Cost

Climate change activists have condemned the outsized environmental impact of the razzle dazzle events, with Stockholm going so far as to cancel its Fashion Week.

Extinction Rebellion protesters in London
Extinction Rebellion protesters in London
Valentin Pérez

PARIS — What if we just ended it? It's a legitimate question after what happened in Stockholm, which made the surprising decision this past July to cancel its Fashion Week.

"We cannot be content to keep telling ourselves that we're aware of the issues while continuing in the same system," explains Jennie Rosen, CEO of the Swedish Fashion Council. "By canceling Stockholm Fashion Week, we wanted to respond to climate activists who have been warning us for years, and respond to the radical changes called for by Generation Z."

Should the rest of the world follow suit? Is it time to be done with fashion weeks, these marathon gatherings in places like New York, London, Milan and Paris, where fashion industry professionals congregate to see dozens of shows in a row?

Guests fly into these cities by plane, and then taxi to different venues every hour. Fashion shows are sewn with stages and decorations whose use is ecologically dubious. The events consume high amounts of electricity and water, and produce a fair share of waste, all for the sake of shows that only last, on average, seven to 12 minutes each.

During the recent London Fashion Week (Sept. 13 to 17), activists raised signs, sang songs, and staged simulated die-ins. "We have to declare a state of emergency," said Bel Jacobs, coordinator of the international "Extinction Rebellion" movement, the #boycottfashion group that wants to do away entirely with London's Fashion Week.

Models on backstage during Paris Fashion Week 2020 — Photo: FashionPPS via ZUMA Wire

"The fashion industry has a disastrous ecological footprint," the activist and ethnical fashion blogger added. "This symbol must be dropped to send a signal. This isn't something we're just saying for fun. Honestly, if we can keep the planet from warming up by 2 ° C in coming years, is it really asking too much?"

Despite the protests, the British Fashion Council (BFC), which organizes London Fashion Week, chose to carry on with the event. "I am sensitive to their arguments," said Caroline Rush, CFB's executive director. "But Fashion Week is also a place for exchanges where the industry can collectively think about how to become more sustainable, not to mention the exposure it offers to creators and the jobs that the event guarantees."

Rush also announced the launch of a positive fashion institute whose job it will be to help fashion brands transition towards greener, sustainable practices.

Although some brands are unwilling to put an end to runway shows, many are trying to compromise. Gucci, for example, won't give up its Milan show, but did announce on Sept. 12 that it will offer payment for all the CO2 emissions it cannot eliminate.

The English menswear brand Cottweiler, on the other hand, decided to switch out their June fashion show for a "digital" one instead. "We need to rethink our relationship with consumerism, and this fashion week system has exhausted itself," said Matthew Dainty, one of the brand's co-founders. Dainty admits that the decision cost the brand sponsorship revenue, but insists that by going digital, Cottweiler actually reached a larger audience than it would have with a traditional fashion show format.

And in Paris? Pascal Morand, the executive chairman of the Federation of Haute Couture and Fashion, organizer of Paris Fashion Week, isn't ready to give up on actual shows just yet. "Not only is streaming not ecologically neutral, but the physical event has the benefit of bringing people and fostering a community spirit. It has an added emotional value," he says.

Also, there are technological limits to the digital approach, Morand explains. "The 3D imagery is not developed enough to appreciate the movement of a garment," he says.

Still, the Federation is willing to make some changes. They're putting together sustainable development guidelines, for example, that they'll share with fashion industry professionals in November. The Federation also has plans to measure the environmental impact of next year's Paris Fashion Week, and to offer event goers 100% electric transport. "We've got to rethink everything," says Morand.

In the meantime, the frenetic and polluting pace of fashion shows no signs of slowing down. For this year's Paris Fashion Week, held between Sept. 23 and Oct. 1, an estimated 5,000 showed up — for presentations, dinners and parties... Oh, and there were also at least 75 different runways shows!

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In Argentina, A Visit To World's Highest Solar Energy Park

With loans and solar panels from China, the massive solar park has been opened a year and is already powering the surrounding areas. Now the Chinese supplier is pushing for an expansion.

960,000 solar panels have been installed at the Cauchari park

Silvia Naishtat

CAUCHARI — Driving across the border with Chile into the northwest Argentine department of Susques, you may spot what looks like a black mass in the distance. Arriving at a 4,000-meter altitude in the municipality of Cauchari, what comes into view instead is an assembly of 960,000 solar panels. It is the world's highest photovoltaic (PV) park, which is also the second biggest solar energy facility in Latin America, after Mexico's Aguascalientes plant.

Spread over 800 hectares in an arid landscape, the Cauchari park has been operating for a year, and has so far turned sunshine into 315 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the local provincial capital of Jujuy through the national grid.

It has also generated some $50 million for the province, which Governor Gerardo Morales has allocated to building 239 schools.

Abundant sunshine, low temperatures

The physicist Martín Albornoz says Cauchari, which means "link to the sun," is exposed to the best solar radiation anywhere. The area has 260 days of sunshine, with no smog and relatively low temperatures, which helps keep the panels in optimal conditions.

Its construction began with a loan of more than $331 million from China's Eximbank, which allowed the purchase of panels made in Shanghai. They arrived in Buenos Aires in 2,500 containers and were later trucked a considerable distance to the site in Cauchari . This was a titanic project that required 1,200 builders and 10-ton cranes, but will save some 780,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year.

It is now run by 60 technicians. Its panels, with a 25-year guarantee, follow the sun's path and are cleaned twice a year. The plant is expected to have a service life of 40 years. Its choice of location was based on power lines traced in the 1990s to export power to Chile, now fed by the park.

Chinese engineers working in an office at the Cauchari park


Chinese want to expand

The plant belongs to the public-sector firm Jemse (Jujuy Energía y Minería), created in 2011 by the province's then governor Eduardo Fellner. Jemse's president, Felipe Albornoz, says that once Chinese credits are repaid in 20 years, Cauchari will earn the province $600 million.

The Argentine Energy ministry must now decide on the park's proposed expansion. The Chinese would pay in $200 million, which will help install 400,000 additional panels and generate enough power for the entire province of Jujuy.

The park's CEO, Guillermo Hoerth, observes that state policies are key to turning Jujuy into a green province. "We must change the production model. The world is rapidly cutting fossil fuel emissions. This is a great opportunity," Hoerth says.

The province's energy chief, Mario Pizarro, says in turn that Susques and three other provincial districts are already self-sufficient with clean energy, and three other districts would soon follow.

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