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Impact Part 2: The Nuances of Calculating the Impact of Resale
We love a good nuanced conversation here at Beni because, turns out, “sustainability” is pretty complicated. If we are going to have a tangible, positive impact it’s critical that we get into the nitty gritty of how resale actually does, and could possibly, improve the impact of fashion on the planet.
Let’s dive in, shall we.
In this blog post we talked about how, in general, increasing the amount of items we procure through circular models is better for the planet because (a) it would keep more garments in use for longer, better leveraging the energy used to produce the garments, and (b) it would displace the need to purchase (and produce) more net new items. This means that, ideally, switching from a linear production and consumption model to a circular one would look something like this:
Pretty awesome, right? Right…but, as with many things in life, the reality is much more complicated. From production to end-of-life, there is a range to what the impact might actually be. Here are just a few questions that highlight the nuances:
What is the impact of transporting (shipping) each individual item? (Shipping tips)
What is the impact of washing and maintaining these items for longer? (Washing tips)
Are we swapping new purchases with pre-owned, or are we actually just buying resale items on top of new purchases? (Displacement rate)
Are these garments made in a way to retain their value over a long time, or will we have to replace them quickly? (Replacement rate)
Where are garments ultimately ending up?
Are we (brands) actually producing fewer, higher-quality clothing items?
At first glance, this picture can seem discouraging. If it’s so unclear whether resale has a positive impact on the planet, then why are we focused on it? Well, research to date has taken these nuances into account (as much as possible) and has shown that resale still has a net positive impact on the planet! Specifically, a recent analysis shows that buying and wearing secondhand clothing instead of new reduces carbon emissions by an average of 25%. We dive into this research in this recent blog post. If you want to really get into the details, I recommend reading the report, particularly looking at p. 52 for scenarios based on different assumptions related to some of the questions listed above.
Ultimately, it’s important that we continue to dive into questions like these because in doing so we will stay focused on how we can truly make resale models as beneficial as possible. Resale is not a silver bullet, but it does have important benefits over a linear model, especially if we are thoughtful about how we design and embed resale. In the next post in this impact series, we will take some time to dream what a well-designed circular system in apparel could look like.