16 July, 2021
Of course it is always disappointing when it turns out that a sustainable innovation which seemed promising is, in fact, more problematic than the original (like the moment we realised that vegan leather shoes are just plastic…) But given the complexity of many sustainability issues, it’s actually not surprising. Of course there will be failures, and unintended consequences, amongst the many stories of success. The trick is to learn from them, and move on.
So while it wasn’t what we expected, we weren’t too worried to discover that renting clothes may in fact be the most damaging way of consuming fashion.
A new report from the Finnish scientific journal Environmental Research Letters compares the global warming potential of different shopping models, from the classic cycle (buy new, use for a while, bin), to reuse models like second-hand shops, to rental. It the finds the renting model is the least sustainable. Why? The extensive packaging, relentless cleaning and constant transportation between renters, makes this model much more carbon intensive than alternatives.
The answer isn’t to go back to Primark. First, the report sets out ways to genuinely reduce your impact (spoiler: look for high quality clothes you can keep for long to reduce your need to buy more). And second, it helps us all reassess our purchase models, and think about alternatives, in all sectors.
And big picture – our message is let’s keep innovating and exploring! Trial and error involves just that, but it also contains the seeds of a more sustainable future.
By Marie Guérinet