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The Green Dress on the Red Carpet

By Project Coordinator of the Global Opportunity Network Emil Kofoed Braunschweig

Here’s a fashion riddle – which red carpet dress is black and white, but green all over? What if I told you that the red carpet in question was the one outside the Met Gala, and the dress was worn by Emma Watson and made by Calvin Klein. To the casual observer, her dress was black and white, but dig a little deeper and you will find that it’s actually made from 100% sustainable materials – this is what makes it green, at least in spirit. Emma Watson was not alone in wearing “green” on the red carpet. Actors Lupita Nyong’o and Margot Robbie also adorned the red carpet with their eco-outfits.

Fabric made from bottles
The main garment used in Emma Watson’s dress is from Newlife, a yarn and fabric manufacturer that makes their garment from discarded plastic bottles. By its very nature, the ocean is downstream from everything which means that a significant proportion of our waste inevitably ends up there, unless we close the loop on our waste cycle and begin producing sustainably. Today, only one in six water bottles is recycled. The rest end up in landfills or the oceans, where they cause danger to wildlife and the ecosystem as a whole. So Newlife has found an opportunity in this risk by attempting to close the loop on our plastic consumption. ´Closing the loop’ is an opportunity in this year´s Global Opportunity Report, and respondents in Africa in particular rank it highly as it comes second only to smart farming.

By closing the loop, Newlife is preventing these bottles from reaching the ocean in the first place and simultaneously making a garment in such a high quality that it can be used in haute couture. What’s more, Newlife is not the only company making high quality fabrics in a closed loop business model.

3,781 litres of water
The garment manufacturing process places a huge strain on the environment. According to Levi’s a pair of their iconic 501 jeans uses 3,781 litres of water in its life cycle, and the dyeing and bleaching process often contribute to the presence of pollutants in the waterways.

Tencel is a fabric made from cellulose wood pulp of the eucalyptus tree. In order to make the wood fibres into cloth, the pulp goes through a complex process of treatment with toxic solvents. In most other cloth manufacturing processes, these solvents would enter the waste stream and pollute the environment. Lenzing, the company behind Tencel, has created a closed loop manufacturing process enabling them to reuse 99.8 percent of the solvents. In this way, the acquisition expense of new solvents is lowered tremendously, making it an economically profitable approach as well as an environmental one.

The business case for green fashion
These types of eco-designs and waste prevention and reuse methods could bring net savings of up to €604 billion in the EU alone, according to Plastic Oceans. The latest trends on the red carpet and the success of these fabric producers underline one of the main findings from the Global Opportunity Report, that business is the new activist. Our respondents were asked to rate which section of society was most likely to advocate for the opportunities, and perhaps unsurprisingly civil society came out on top. Business however, was a close second, a significant stretch ahead of politics and finance. This paints a picture of a future where societal change is likely to come from civil society and business in cooperation. Fashion is an area where this link is most clear. Consumers are demanding green options and business are following suit. As green is becoming the new black on the red carpet the business case for sustainable fashion cannot be denied.

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