The Global Fashion Summit: Positioning the Fashion Industry in the Spotlight of the Environmental Crisis

Theodora Terracina
Federica Marchionni, the CEO of the Global Fashion Agenda, at the 2023 Bostin Global Fashion Summit. (Image Source: Forbes)

When faced with the discussion of sustainability, it becomes a common thread to point towards discussions of fossil fuels, recycling, renewable energy, or other similar practices that affect the globe’s ecological, social, or economic health. The first thought or notion regarding sustainability rarely involves ‘fashion.’ However, the fashion industry is responsible for almost 10% of the globe’s greenhouse gas emissions and consumes about 215 trillion liters of water a year. With such a drastic impact on the environment and active complicity, oftentimes without awareness, by everyone who shops, buys, and wears clothes, sustainability within the fashion sector has become a topic of dialogue worth raising acknowledgments.

Organizations such as the Global Fashion Agenda, based in Copenhagen, have been established in the hopes of providing concrete change to the industry through policy engagements, impact programs, and collaborative commitments to bring awareness of the fashion industry’s impact on the globe and those implicated in its processes. Ultimately, organizations such as the GFA aim, to achieve net-zero in the fashion industry and champion labor rights and fair wages of those affected, by enacting policy and legislation reform across governments and industries alike. While the GFA hosts a yearly Summit conference in Copenhagen, this year, for the first time, they hosted its Global Fashion Summit in Boston, encompassing the theme “Ambition to Action,” to ‘spearhead the transition to a net-positive fashion industry’ and include North America in the conversation. 

The Global Fashion Summit Conference, “Ambition to Action,” held in Boston on September 27th, 2023, mapped out its key themes of policy, retail, and finance while centering the focus on their primary and consistent concerns of better wage systems, respectful and secure work environments, smart material choices, resource stewardship, and circular systems. Inviting leading personnel from brands and retailers across the fashion industry, as well as principal organizations in fashion sustainability and environmental advocacy, the Boston Summit heard from a wide array of speakers – from Jonathan Anderson, Creative Director of Loewe, and Noel Kinder, Chief Sustainability Officer of Nike, to Virginijus Sinkevicius, Commissioner for the Environment, Oceans and Fisheries, European Commission, and Rachel Arthur of the United Nations Environment Programme.

With an introductory welcome by Federica Marchionni, the CEO of GFA, and spanning a non-exhaustive panel covering topics and dialogue points from textile legislation and policy regulation to environmental challenges posed by climate change, “Ambition to Action” contextualized the fashion industry’s plague to both environmental and social sustainability, while providing hope and solutions for its betterment.

Textiles: A Source of Constant Waste

Textile waste was one of the main issues tackled during this conference. Unbeknownst to most, creating a single kilogram of fabric generates about 23 kilograms of greenhouse gasses. Then, as the garments are purchased by consumers and go on to fulfill their life cycle (being thrown out within the year), such waste not only, creates a hostile environment for the planet, but for the people dealing with the scraps. Called to speak at the conference were members of The Or Foundation, a non-profit organization, and public charity working in Ghana to tackle the issue of textile waste in the Kantamanto Market in Accra, where roughly 15 million garments will arrive every week, which not only jeopardizes the environment, but brings danger to young women and girls as they risk their lives to transport them. The organization’s senior community engagement manager, Sammy Oteng, discussed and pushed for the necessity of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) regulations.

Sammy Oteng of the Or Foundation, speaking on textile waste at the summit. (Image Source: Vogue)

Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) regulations are a guidance mechanism in the process of being discussed at the EU level, which would hold brands financially accountable for their products by following requirements of product, packaging, and labeling designs, as well as sorting and recycling the pieces at the end of its life. In attempts to create a uniform and fundamental environmental policy to place responsibility on the producer, as opposed to the consumer, the European Union is the first to introduce this legislation on such a grand scale, a method supported and called for by the Summit panelists. As the EU awaits to fully implement such a regulation, Oteng expressed a necessity for all brands, regardless of legislation, to begin introducing voluntary EPR initiatives to ensure the real dilemma of textile waste is tackled.

The Fashion Industry’s Need for Regulation

Covering yet another array of legislative and regulatory mechanisms, the conference discussed the European Parliament’s introductory proposal of digital product passports and regulations to end fast fashion. The Digital Product Passport (DPP) is a tool created and proposed by the European Commission, adding to brand responsibility, in order to make all information on the product transparent and available to the consumer – from its inception, throughout the value chain and its production cycle, up until it reaches recycling. 

Similar to an EPR, the DDP would be a digital record to make all necessary information on a product available and in turn, keep brands compliant with EU standards for the environment. As such, Virginijus Sinkevicius, the European commissioner for the environment, oceans, and fisheries, paved this discussion, pressing a concern to address textile waste and framing the necessary conversation around a mandatory need for digital product passports, which brands such as Chloe, H&M, and Coach, have already begun implementing.

Lastly on the regulation agenda, one of the major developments of the discussion was the introduction of the GFA Policy Matrix: Americas. Presented as a means to understand sustainability and social matters policy as it relates to North and South America, the framework is aimed to parallel what is established in the European Union. Emphasizing the main five core values of the GFA (respectful and secure work environments, better wage systems, resource stewardship, smart material choices, and circular systems), this introduction at the Boston Summit brings the American hemisphere into the sustainable quota and establishes an incomprehensive overview for priorities and standards within the fashion industry. 

Visual of the Digital Product Passports.

Environmental Protections

One of the final core introductions of the Summit, came from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), in launching the Sustainable Fashion Communication Playbook. Initiated in June of 2023, and presented at this year’s Boston Summit, the Playbook is a guide for communicators within the global fashion industry; drawing responsibility away from sole producers and allowing marketers, media influencers, image-makers, storytellers, brand managers, and even consumers to be equipped with the understanding of how to change the fashion narrative for a more positive ecological outcome. 

Made up of four crucial columns – handling misinformation, minimizing messages of overconsumption, changing behaviors to more sustainable lifestyles, and reimagining values by enabling consumers with the push to demand action from brands and policymakers – the guide is a support system for communicators navigating the desire of a more sustainable fashion agenda. Making her statement for the Playbook, Rachel Arthur, the UNEP’s lead advocate for sustainable fashion, emphasized the point of overconsumption within the clothing business and finding a way to reduce the industry’s carbon footprint. As such, the practical playbook takes advancing steps towards the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, by giving the communicating figure greater authority to point out unsustainable behaviors. 


As fast fashion brands grow and consumerism continues underway, leading organizations such as the Global Fashion Agenda are stressing for brands and producers to take active accountability for their implications in the environmental crises they help cause. By bringing a stronghold figure to the table of tackling climate change, “Ambition to Action” further opened the arena for the fashion industry to take accountability for their environmental abuses and implement mechanisms to reverse the damaging effects. While the GFA hosts its annual Summit in Copenhagen, hosting its first conference in Boston opened dialogue to a wider audience, and involved a new market in the changing fashion landscape. With the climate crisis continuously on the rise and on the radar of the public and policymakers everywhere, it has only proven imperative that an industry that affects the environment at such a grand scale be given immediate attention for necessary improvements.

For More Information, Please Read the Following:

The Global Fashion Agenda. “Unpacking Policy at Global Fashion Summit: Boston Edition 2023”

Ferere, Cassell. “Global Fashion Summit: Boston Edition 2023 Holds Its Inaugural United States Forum.”

UN Climate Press Release. “UNEP and UN Climate Change Provide Fashion Communicators With Practical Guide to Contribute to Sustainable Change.”

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The Global Fashion Summit…

by Theodora Terracina time to read: 6 min