I own five pairs of almost identical black trousers and several black and white striped shirts. Not because I wear the same thing every day in some sort of an Addams Family fashion statement, but because fast-fashion brands keep selling me their variations at very affordable prices. Just like me, most people in the developed world own much more clothes than they need. According to the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), an average consumer now buys 60 percent more items of clothing compared to 2000, but keeps each garment half as long; and almost 60 percent of clothes are thrown out within the first year of their production. On top of all this, on average, 40 percent of clothes in our wardrobes are never or rarely worn.
If only fast fashion just turned us into consumption monsters with a penchant for Pugsley Addams inspired outfits, but the industry is also destroying the planet and exploiting human labour. As the purchase price for fast fashion drops, it’s cost on the environment and human lives rises.
The same research by UNECE shows that the fashion industry is the second highest user of water worldwide and produces 20 percent of global water waste. That one cotton shirt we pay five euros for requires 2700 litres of water to produce. That’s the amount an average person drinks in 2.5 years. Oh, by the way, fast fashion isn’t only depleting the world’s water sources but is also poisoning them. According to the Institute of Sustainable Communication, the clothing industry is the world’s second largest clean water polluter.
The industry also emits 10 percent of the global carbon emissions, which is more than international flights and maritime shipping and produces 21 billion tons of waste each year.
World Resources Institute expects that by 2050, the resource consumption of the industry will be triple the amount of what it was in 2000.
As exhausting valuable resources, poisoning our waters and generally destroying the planet isn’t enough, the garment industry is also notorious for its awful working conditions. Textile workers, the majority of which are women, are extremely underpaid; only two percent of companies source their workers from suppliers that pay a living wage. They work in dehumanising and unsafe environments — sweatshops. Child labour is also still very much prevalent in garment production.
The current way we consume textiles assumes infinite resources in a finite world and disregards the pain our consumption habits cause to our fellow humans. As we keep mindlessly shopping, we — consumers — will stay a big part of the problem; it's (way past) time to change our consumption habits.
Uttar Pradesh in India is not a great place to be a woman. Quite the opposite in fact. The northern Indian state has high levels of violence against women, who are often failed by the police and the legal system leaving them waiting a long time for a fair trial and justice.
Tired of the poor justice system, Sampat Pal Devi founded the Gulabi Gang, an organisation that aims to challenge the deeply patriarchal structure of her society.
As a group that now boasts 400,000 women who wear pink saris and carry large sticks to beat offenders, they have not gone unnoticed and are making a mark in Northern India.
"Yes, we fight rapists with lathis [sticks]. If we find the culprit, we thrash him black and blue so he dare not attempt to do wrong to any girl or a woman again."
However, Gulabi Gang isn’t just about beating local abusers. The group’s main focus is on empowering women, promoting equality and challenging stereotypes. This is carried out through several practices including training women in self-defence, persuading families to educate girls and putting an end to child marriage.
The Gulabi Gang also hope to empower women by providing them with resources that'll help them gain economic freedom. They organise events with companies where women can be hired. They currently collaborate with a local business, which employs over 500 women and allows them to earn up to 150 rupees a day.
Considering only 27 percent of Indian women are in the labour force Gulabi Gang's work is quite impressive.
Pal definitely knows what she wants for the women in India and is not afraid to be considered a controversial figure in order to get it, saying:
“Society will only change if we eliminate the inherently subordinate role given to women. This is a revolution that has to come from us. Therefore, besides having established self-help and legal counselling groups to address individual cases, we focus on programmes to achieve their emancipation... If we women don't save ourselves, nobody will”
The Gulabi Gang are really taking women’s rights and empowerment into their own hands and are considered a force to be reckoned with across the globe. Although Sampat Pal Devi’s direct approach might be seen as controversial in some circles, there is no denying she is making an impact.
After graduating from Gaza’s Islamic University with an engineering degree, Majd Mashharawi looked around in her city to see high unemployment rates, war-torn infrastructure and blockades limiting the supply of resources and materials.
In 2016, Mashharawi and her friend Rawan Abddllaht decided to do something about the state their city was in and invented a new form of brick made from rubble and ash in order to, quite literally, rebuild the city from its ashes.
Costing just half the price of traditional bricks, Mashharawi’s replaces sand and aggregate with her new formula called "GreenCake" to produce a lightweight brick from materials that would have otherwise been wasted.
Not only materials needed to produce GreenCake are easy to find and cheap: GreenCake also has a positive environmental impact. The innovative brick uses ash from local restaurants and factories that would have otherwise been dumped into a landfill, posing environmental threats.
Mashharawi and Rawan’s efforts did not go unnoticed and the pair won first place in a local startup incubator, supplying them with funds to create their first 1,000 bricks in 2016.
Mashharawi didn't stop with building Gaza from its ashes but also decided to work on saving it from darkness. She and her team are expanding into renewable energy technologies for people in Gaza. The city only receives three to six hours of electricity a day, which affects it's residents severely in many ways, from the quality of life to education, from socialising to economic growth.
But According to Mashhrawi, "[T]he region has a resource that can be harnessed: an average of 320 days of sunshine a year, making solar energy an ideal source of electricity production."
The SunBox, one of her projects, aims to address this: it is a solar energy technology that generates 1,000 watts of electricity, enough to power four lamps, two laptops, two phones, an internet router and a small refrigerator for a full day.
Mashharawi made it to Fast Company's Most Creative People in Business 2018 list, and rightfully so. She is finding sustainable and realistic solutions to her local communities problems that can be extended to many other places in the world, and she's doing all of this while sticking it to the patriarchy.
Three years from now, you may be able to buy a very special brand of meat in your neighbourhood supermarket. In that, no defenceless animal was raised and slaughtered to produce it.
Yes, thanks to the efforts of some brilliant minds in biotechnology and meat production, cultured meat is finally on its way towards becoming a commercial reality.
Mosa Meat, a Dutch startup, recently announced that it had raised 7.5 million euros to commercialise cultured meat — meat produced from animal cells rather than slaughter — and bring it to the market by 2021. In this initiative, the startup collaborated with Bell Food Group, a Swiss meat producer, and M Ventures, a venture capital firm.
“Replacing traditional meat production with cultured meat would have a huge impact on the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, it would free up a large number of resources that are now used for meat production worldwide and will completely disrupt an old-established and currently unsustainable industry,” said Alexander Hoffmann, principal at M Ventures. “We’re incredibly excited to be leading this investment into Mosa Meat, a company at the unique cross-section of food and biotech.”
It’s clear that the global livestock will not be able to sustain the exploding world population for long, which is why the idea of cultured meat could be a lifesaver in the coming decades. Professor Mark Post, a pathfinder in cultured meat production and the co-founder of Mosa Meat, realized this early when he began trying to create the world’s first cultured beef burger, succeeding in 2013.
This marks yet another giant stride in finding sustainable alternatives in terms of food consumption. Here’s hoping that more such brainwaves follow soon.