Ethical and sustainable trends – 2018 trends in review

Ethical and sustainable trends – 2018 trends in review

Back in January we predicted the ethical and sustainable trends we thought we might see in 2018.

From plastic pollution to ethical fashion, we discussed how these previously niche issues would hit the headlines and go mainstream this year – and it’s happened in a big way.


Fast fashion in focus

Major fashion houses were rocked by scandal in 2018 when it emerged that they were burning unsold stock (even after H&M were exposed for this in 2017).

In July an earnings report revealed that Burberry destroyed unsold clothes, accessories and perfume worth £28.6m in 2017 “to protect its brand”.

The news caused public outrage which led to a commitment from the fashion brand to stop burning stock and move away from using real fur in their designs too.

Greenpeace commented:

“Burberry’s decision to stop incinerating its overstock is a much-needed sign of a change of mind in the fashion industry.

“Because fashion is a high-volume business with more than 100 billion garments produced each year, consumers’ closets are already overflowing with unworn clothes – creating an overstock problem for many companies.

“It’s high time for the whole fashion industry to start dealing with overstock at its source: by slowing down production and re-thinking the way it does business.”

At the end of 2017 Burberry also launched a partnership with sustainable luxury company Elvis & Kresse that will see 120 tonnes of leather off-cuts transformed into new products over the next five years, which is a big step forward in the war on waste.

Stacey Dooley helped raise further awareness with the public when she uncovered the industry’s dirty secrets in a BBC documentary and online bloggers and influencers have increasingly been speaking out against ‘haul culture’ this year.


UK Government review fast fashion

The UK Government committed to reviewing the environmental impact of fast fashion in 2018.

The inquiry is examining the carbon, resource use and water footprint of clothing throughout its lifecycle, and will look at how clothes can be recycled, and waste and pollution can be reduced.

MP Mary Creagh was appointed chair of the Environmental Audit Select Committee, which has collected evidence from brands and members of the public and heard evidence from a number of key experts in recycling, supply chain management and academia so far.

Letters have also been sent to five major fast fashion brands – Amazon, Asos, Boohoo, Pretty Little Thing and Misguided, asking them to submit evidence about areas of their business including supply chains, supplier payment plans, product lifecycle, what they do with unused stock and how they work to reduce the release of microfibres into the water.

Key individuals and organisations from the ethical fashion sector, including Livia Firth, Lucy Siegle and Stella McCartney have also met with the Select Committee.

MPs have said there is a basic problem with an industry that relies on persuading people to throw away good clothes because they are “last year’s colour”.

The review aims to establish how brands can maintain the £28bn benefit their industry brings to the UK economy, while reducing the environmental harm.


Is fast fashion changing?

All this awareness seems to be having a positive impact. Major brands have increased their transparency – Fashion Revolution produce their annual Fashion Transparency Index reviewing 150 of the biggest global fashion brands, and the 98 brands that appeared in both the 2017 and 2018 index saw an average 5% increase in their levels of transparency.

37% of brands in the Fashion Transparency Index are publishing a list of their manufacturers, up from 32% in 2017 and 12.5% in 2016, and Fashion Revolution report that the supplier lists are becoming more detailed too.

The volume of clothing sold is expected to have fallen by 0.5% in 2018, after a fall of 0.8% in 2017. Spending on women’s clothing, which accounts for more than half of the UK market, was down an average 4.2% a month in the first four months of this year, according to Barclaycard.

H&M closed 6 UK stores in the first 3 months of the year as their sales stagnated, and New Look announced 60 store closures.

Are we starting to see the market move away from fast fashion at last?

Plastic pollution

Liz Bonnin’s ‘Drowning in Plastic’ documentary showed us shocking footage of microplastics that had made their way to the Arctic, building on the awareness raised in January by Blue Planet II.

We’ve seen major airlines ban plastic straws, companies introduce innovative new packaging and Governments commit to tackling the plastic pollution problem in 2018, and Collins Dictionary named ‘single-use’ the word of the year.

The EU Parliament approved a single-use plastic ban, which still needs to pass additional procedural measures but is looking as if it may come into force as early as 2021. In America President Trump also signed a bill to clean up the world’s oceans.

In the corporate world, 250 organisations responsible for 20% of the plastic packaging produced around the world have committed to reducing waste and pollution. The New Plastics Economy Global Commitment includes brands like H&M, Unilever, PepsiCo, Nestle and Coca-Cola, in collaboration with the United Nations – led by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

The initiative will work to promote a circular economy for plastic – repurposing it rather than sending it to landfill. 5 venture capital firms have pledged $200 million to the initiative.



The rise of Veganism

Just Eat predicted that veganism would be the food trend of 2018 and it seems that they were correct. Veganuary 2018 had a record breaking year with over 150,000 participants.

Supermarkets have started stocking more vegan options this year and Waitrose recently launched a dedicated vegan section in more than 130 shops. Iceland reported that sales of their plant-based food have risen by 10% over the last year.

Retail sales of vegan products are expected to increase to £658 million by 2021.



Climate change

2017 wasn’t a great year for climate change, with Trump pulling the USA out of the Paris Climate Agreement, a “warning to humanity” letter from the world’s scientific community and an overall growth in global emissions.

We predicted that this would stay high on the agenda for 2018 and we’ve certainly seen increased effects of climate change this year with storms, floods and wildfires causing damage around the world.

This year the world’s leading climate scientists warned that we only have 12 years left to tackle climate change in alarming reports which hit headlines in October. Reports have also suggested that climate change could cost the US economy hundreds of billions of dollars – in the worst case scenario more than 10% of its GDP – by the end of the century.

Unfortunately the International Energy Agency expects data to show that emissions have risen in 2018 despite all the warnings that they need to fall rapidly.

Will we make better progress against emissions targets in 2019?


To see our full predictions for the ethical and sustainable trends in 2018, take a look back at this post from our archives. It will soon be time for us to write our predictions for 2019! What trends will you be watching in the ethical and sustainability space for the year ahead?

Share this post:
1 Comment
  • Go Homespun
    Posted at 10:08h, 01 December Reply

    When it comes to trends in food, the ones I really hope will be on the rise are buying local and supporting local farmers in producing REAL food grown in harmony with nature (by biodiverse farming). That would be organic fruit, veg, grains, organic, free-range/high welfare meat, eggs, dairy etc.

    Most plant food is now grown with a cocktail of chemical fertilisers, herbicides and pesticides – not at all sustainable. Very bad for us and wildlife. The way to avoid that is by mixed farming crops with animals that poop on the ground, replenish soils. Farming with pasture that locks carbon and water into the ground.

    How about supporting real food grown or reared by identifiable people. Free-range eggs reared on a named local farm, sold in a biodegradable box. Compare that to an egg substitute (called Just Egg) made from mung beans (grown where in the world?), colourings and preservatives, sold in a plastic bottle, made in a factory somewhere in Europe by a corporate business. I know what I would choose….

Post A Comment

Privacy Policy