Study reveals manufacturing clothes in the UK is 47% greener

As part of a campaign to localise British manufacturing, Derbyshire fashion firm David Nieper has commissioned an academic report into the environmental impact of offshore manufacturing.

The report which was conducted by the University of Nottingham Energy Innovation and Collaboration team, has revealed the practice of offshoring manufacturing essentially amounts to offshoring pollution, with two-thirds of emissions from UK clothing occurring overseas.

The report also highlights 47% less emissions are created by manufacturing clothes in the UK, in comparison to a similar operation in an overseas textiles production base.

The University’s report studied the energy and greenhouse gas emissions for the manufacturing operations of David Nieper, who design and make clothes in the UK and sell online and through catalogues, as opposed to a garment retailer that manufactures overseas and sells on the British high street.

Renewable energy plays a key part in keeping energy consumption to a minimum. Within the garment production process, the sewing phase typically requires most energy consumption. David Nieper’s solar panels, energy efficient machinery and LED lighting means the average power required to make each garment has been reduced by 37.5%, dropping from 8.03kWh to 5.16kWh per garment.

The report also shows the biggest contributing factor to cleaner and more efficient manufacturing in the UK, is due to the lower carbon intensity of electricity supply network. The UK has significantly lower carbon emissions per unit of electricity compared to overseas production hubs such as China, Bangladesh and Turkey; therefore production in the UK has lower direct carbon emissions – making it a more sustainable manufacturing base.

For example, according to the report – a manufacturer in China would typically release around 90% more greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) while using the same energy as in the UK; Turkey would release around 70% more GHG emissions than using the same energy as the same in the UK and Bangladesh uses 24% more – ultimately making UK production more environmentally viable.

The long distance transportation of goods and component parts, which has become synonymous with the textiles industry, is cited as another environmentally damaging practice and significant contributor to GHG.

According to the recent House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee’s ‘Fixing Fashion’ report the fashion and textiles industry produces an estimated 1.2 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent per year – more than international flights and the maritime trade combined.

The University of Nottingham report details shipping distances to the UK high street from the three biggest textiles manufacturing centres range from 6,226km from Turkey, 16,123km from Bangladesh and 21,694km from China. Air freight is the worst polluter in the distribution stage, contributing 90% of greenhouse gas emissions.

Another shock statistic revealed by the report is that the energy used in making clothes is dwarfed when compared to the energy used ‘upstream’ in the textile supply chain, in making fabrics as well as printing and dyeing. This accounts for over 70% of the total carbon emissions in garment production emphasising the importance of transparency throughout the entire supply chain.