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Washington bill aims to reduce 'fast fashion' carbon emissions, pollution

Colorful clothing hang on wooden hangers and are piled all around the tops of the hangers.
Flickr Creative Commons
Pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from the manufacture of fast fashion are growing just as fast as the industry. A new bill in Washington aims to help lessen the industry’s pollution.

Fast fashion adds thousands of new styles daily into the market. While that might be a shopaholic’s dream, it’s a nightmare for some environmental advocates.

Maxine Bédat, director of the New Standard Institute, which advocates for accountability in the largely unregulated fast fashion industry, said the industry soon could become one of the biggest global contributors of heat-trapping greenhouse gasses.

“The sector has more emissions than the entire aviation industry. Without regulation, it’s on path to take up over one-fourth of the world’s greenhouse gas budget,” she said.

That’s why Washington State Rep. Sharlett Mena, D-Tacoma, sponsored a bill to help regulate large fashion companies. Manufacturers and sellers would have to make more than $100 million globally and operate in Washington.

“Fast fashion seems like a trendy way to stay up-to-date, but its shiny veneer hides another side: massive pollution, environmental shortcuts, and social justice issues,” Mena said during a hearing Thursday on H.B. 2068.

The bill would require these large companies to report their environmental due diligence policies and environmental impacts. By Jan. 1, 2027, the companies would have to establish and track performance targets. If those targets aren’t met, the state Department of Ecology could issue penalties, which would be added to a Community Benefit Account for overburdened and at-risk communities.

While large brands like Patagonia and Cotopaxi supported the bill, other retail groups called it too vague and said it would be difficult to regulate.

“It’s just kind of unfathomable for us to get our heads wrapped around how we would even begin to do that,” said Brandon Houskeeper, a lobbyist with the NW Grocery Association.

While there are problems with the bill, Houskeeper said the association would continue to work with lawmakers to help bring transparency to the fashion industry.

Some critics said the state bill also should apply to small businesses and include regulations for the waste it generates. On the other hand, others said the bill would be better regulated at the federal level.

However, Ken Pucker, who worked as chief operating officer at the footwear and apparel company Timberland, said fashion carbon emissions are only increasing, even when companies work to reduce emissions. Because of the global supply chain, Pucker said, Timberland wasn’t able to regulate 98% of its global emissions.

“Sadly, this remains the state of play when it comes to the industry,” Pucker said at the hearing. “The vast majority of companies that have emissions targets are not on path to deliver their goals. To change behavior, we must change system structure and rules.”

That, he said, could be done with legislation. New York state lawmakers have introduced similar bills.

Courtney Flatt is a Richland-based multi-media correspondent for Northwest Public Broadcasting and the Northwest News Network focusing on environmental, natural resources and energy issues in the Northwest.