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New footprint study highlights global impact of German fashion industry

By Simone Preuss


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Image: “German Fashion Footprint” - cover by Axl Jansen

The Fashion Council Germany, representing the interests of fashion designed in Germany, published its study on the “Status of German Fashion” in January 2021 and has now followed up with a second study called “German Fashion Footprint” that assesses the global impact of the German fashion industry.

The German fashion industry released a total of 38 million tonnes of CO2 globally in 2019 when making clothing and footwear - two million tonnes of that in Germany. At the same time, German consumers purchased 76 billion euros worth of clothing and footwear, but only 5 percent of that was made in domestic production facilities.

Image: “German Fashion Footprint” - impact scopes / Fashion Council Germany

“This study for the Fashion Council Germany helps to highlight the fact that the vast majority of greenhouse gas emissions and environmental impacts generated by the fashion industry occur outside of Germany. However, measuring this impact is an important step towards action being taken. It is encouraging to see that the German government has created some initiatives aimed at supporting more sustainable fashion, and that companies in Germany are taking steps towards tracking and reducing their global emissions,” comments Rob Harbron, associate director at Oxford Economics.

“We need to stand up for environmental and social justice, especially in those countries where most of our impact comes from,” adds Magdalena Schaffrin, co-owner and creative strategist at Studio MM04.

As the previous report, the „German Fashion Footprint“ was conducted by Oxford Economics and funded by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH on behalf of the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ). Berlin-based strategy consultancy for innovation and sustainability, Studio MM04, advised throughout and selected the case study partners published in the study - online retailer About You, German fair fashion pioneer Hessnatur, sustainable fashion consultancy Regenerate Fashion, non-profit water consultancy Drip by Drip e.v. and NGO Fashion Revolution Germany.

What is the environmental footprint of the German fashion industry?

The report examines the industry’s environmental footprint through five important variables: greenhouse gas emissions, energy use, air pollution, water use and agricultural land use. To do that, it uses data from 2019, thus before the global Covid-19 pandemic hit and severely reduced the output across many sectors worldwide.

Image: “German Fashion Footprint” - environmental imact / Fashion Council Germany

“Our study on the ‘Status of German Fashion’ showed that fashion is a big economic factor - in Germany, we contributed 66 billion euros to the gross domestic product in 2019. However, when it comes to production, we are the only industry that does more offshoring than reshoring. In order to promote sustainability, innovation and inclusion, we need to initiate changes to be able to control production paths. We need to stick together and learn from each other, create new technologies to drive the circular economy and protect resources. But we also need to reach consumers, preferably with good design and transparency: the awareness for sustainability is definitely there, we now need to work to ensure that the products are in high demand. Therefore, it helps to educate people from all sides,” stressed Scott Lipinski, managing director of Fashion Council Germany, in an interview with FashionUnited.

Water use and agricultural land use

In the study’s foreword, Lipinski asked the question as to how much water is needed
 to keep Germany’s fashion industry from being left high and dry - the answer is around 6.5 billion cubic meters per year. He also wanted to know how much land is needed to clothe Germany – to produce “German” textiles - here, the answer is 2.5 million hectares, which corresponds to almost the whole area of Belgium with 3 million hectares.

Air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions

The report also calculated the emissions of the five air pollutants carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, sulphur dioxide, particulate matter and volatile organic compounds and estimated them at 740,000 metric tons per year. Production and transport account for 38 million metric tons of greenhouse gases per year, which corresponds to the average annual emissions of 1.9 million German households.

Energy use

“We estimate that the German fashion industry required a total of 535,000 terajoules of energy across its direct and supply chain activities in 2019,” says the report about the industry’s energy use. This is a similar magnitude to the direct electrical power usage for all purposes in the Netherlands (510,000 terajoules in 2018). The vast majority (83 percent) of the German fashion industry’s power usage was supplied through fossil fuels, with the remainder split between nuclear power and renewable energy sources.


According to IMF guidelines to managing CO2 emission, the first step to reducing them is measuring and reporting footprints. By compiling and publishing the „German Fashion Footprint,“ this first step has been taken.

“Our research helps to establish a baseline for measuring the footprint of the industry, and a basis for monitoring future progress. It also highlights how much the German fashion industry is a global operation, with the largest impacts from purchases of clothing in Germany being seen around the world due to the prevalence of outsourced production,” sums up the report.

What are the next steps?

The report points to pledges by Germany's biggest fashion brands like Adidas, Puma and Hugo Boss to make their supply chains carbon neutral by 2050, or government support and partnerships such as the Alliance for Sustainable Textiles and initiatives like the government's Green Button textile seal, which is intended to guide consumers' purchasing decisions.

“However, ongoing government support will be needed to provide businesses with the necessary tools and knowledge to calculate environmental impacts, particularly small businesses that do not have significant resources to devote to the issue,” concludes the report.

“We need to get to the point where the footprint of the German fashion industry is continuously measured to become better at evaluating measures and initiatives by the industry and politics. Only by making use of such an instrument will we be able to make better decisions in the future and develop new ideas. We were absolutely surprised at how little transparency there actually is along the value chain. We have to change this together,” adds Lipinski.

Accordingly, the report's appendix names organisations and initiatives that focus on sustainability and transparency in the German fashion sector, including the Berlin-based Beneficial Design Institute; circular economy agency Circular.fashion, the Clean Clothes Campaign; Drip by Drip, the first NGO dedicated to addressing the industry's water issues; transparency software provider Retraced; the Good Garment Collective; and Fair Wertung, the German fair recycling association.

Fashion Council Germany
Sustainable Fashion