You’ve probably read somewhere that Fashion is the world’s second-worst industry (after oil) when it comes to pollution. And the reasons it is and the reason it isn’t are what makes this topic so complex.
How Do We Rank The Biggest Polluters by Industry?
When we rank industries by their negative contribution to the environment, there’s no real agreed upon way of doing it. We have to consider the waste created directly by that industry but also where it overlaps with other industries. For example, in analyzing the Fashion Industry we have to look not only at their direct carbon emissions, chemical usage, and water usage of product production but also trucking and transport, metal smelting, leather tanning (and livestock for that matter), fabric dying etc. Knowing when to stop is enough to make your head spin. So where do we start? Perhaps with the biggest contributor to Global Warming and most straight forward pollutant to measure. Carbon Emissions.
Which Industry Releases The Most Carbon Emissions?
The Earth releases its own natural carbon, from plants, oceans and living things in the natural carbon cycle. These carbon emissions are easily absorbed back into the Earth. But after humans started extracting fossil fuels, we upped the amount of carbon in our atmosphere and only 40% of it can be reabsorbed. The rest of it is just hanging out, trapping heat and causing a little thing you may have heard of, called Global Warming.
Ok, so who are the main culprits when it comes to producing these extra, un-absorbable carbon emissions? Here’s what the EPA has to say.
No big surprise that the production of energy makes up one of the biggest industrial contributions to carbon emissions. Collectively making up 28% of the United States Greenhouse Gas contributions. With approximately 68% of electricity coming from burning fossil fuels, mostly coal and natural gas (sorry Trump, ‘Clean Coal’ isn’t actually a real thing!)
Coming in tied with Energy is Transport. This includes trucks, cars, boats, planes, and trains. Pretty much any non-human powered or electric mode of getting from point A to point B, with emissions from cars and ‘light duty’ vehicles making up 60% of the contributions. These statistics are only considering the fuel burned to power the vehicles and not the actual production of them. Which brings us to….
Coming in a close 3rd, making up 22% of Greenhouse emissions is Industry & Production. This is an incredibly broad industry (hello Fashion, we see you) but in general, it’s referring to the fossil fuels burned to convert raw materials into pretty much anything. Whether that be metal, plastic, textiles or otherwise.
So with the Big Three out of the way, that leaves us with...
4. Residential, Commercial and Institutional Sectors
This is the energy used in heating, cooling, general electricity, and waste management in homes, businesses, hospitals, schools etc. It makes up a solid 9% of Greenhouse emissions and is a place where we can really make some individual impacts as homeowners, designers, architects, city planners, and community activists.
If you’ve been looking for a reason to switch up your eating habits, this just might be it. While the farming of livestock contributes considerably to global carbon dioxide emissions, the animals themselves also contribute large amounts of methane, which at 10% of the overall emissions, is the second largest Greenhouse Gas.
6. Forestry and Land Management
This is a ‘win some/lose some’ Industry. Like we mentioned at the beginning, the Earth has the ability to reabsorb up to 40% of the human-created carbon we’re contributing. This tends to happen within the land used in Forestry and ‘Land Management’, so while the industry is a huge contributor, it can be argued that it is creating a net carbon impact through managed forests reabsorbing CO2.
As you can see, there are countless ways to categorize ‘pollution’ with regards to industry and this is just one. We can look at which industries create the most plastic, most waste, most run-off, most air pollution but one thing is clear; there’s a whole lot going on, beyond what we can see.