The environmental impact of fashion, especially fast fashion, cannot be repeated too often. A quick run-through of statistics: the fashion industry is responsible for 8-10% of global CO2 emissions (4-5 billion tons annually), ~20% of industrial water pollution (79 trillion liters per year), and ~35% of oceanic primary microplastic pollution. Despite all this production pollution, many unsold products go to landfill or is burnt. This is probably not the first time many people have heard these numbers, but the numbers are still shocking and damning.
Previous legislations regarding fashion have mostly focused on only social issues, such as ethical labor issues and more rarely, animal rights issues (fur). For environmental issues, while some fashion companies set up their own sustainability goals, there were no regulations (in practice or planned) that addressed environmental impact of fashion—until 2022.
On January 7, 2022, New York Senator Alessandra Biaggi and Assemblywoman Anna R. Kelles introduced the Fashion Sustainability and Social Accountability Act. The bill is currently in committee. According to this bill, any fashion (apparel & footwear) companies with more than $100 million in revenue and doing business in New York will need to comply. Requirements include:
- To map at least 50% of their supply chain—including the very beginning of the step in which raw material is sourced. The company is to take a good faith “risk-based” approach, disclosing the part of supply chain relevant to prioritized risks
- Impact and Due Diligence Disclosure—including a social and environmental sustainability report. This disclosure will detail the processes and activities taken to identify and deal with environmental and social issues. The outcome of these processes and activities should be listed too.
- Impact Disclosure—disclosing the prioritized adverse environmental and social impacts with a specific focus on quantitative details. Quantitative details include the material production volume and medium wages of workers of the prioritized risk/supply. The company should also set up quantitative targets and results that is in accordance with international guidelines such as Paris Climate Accord and World Resources Institute and are based on science.
All the information has to be public and online. If the bill is passed, companies instantly have 12 months to comply with requirement 1) mapping and 2) due diligence disclosure, while they have 18 months for 3) impact disclosure. If companies fail to comply, either the attorney general or private citizens can enforce the proposed law. Companies can be fined up to 2% of their annual revenue, which will go to a Community Fund used for environmental justice projects. Then, their name will be part of an annual list of noncompliant companies.
Even from the New York Times headline “New York Could Make History With a Fashion Sustainability Act,” one can garner a bit of excitement and buzz behind this act. After all, it is exciting that it is the first kind of regulation that deals with fashion’s serious environment problem. Knowing that any fashion brand that has a sizeable impact will be doing business in New York, and hence subject to the bill, is another plus. There are of course criticisms and doubts as well. Beth Esponnette, the founder of fashion-tech startup unspun with emphasis on sustainability, does not think the bill will do enough. There are also concerns of greenwashing. Since the company has creates its own method of analyzing risk and impact, they may have considerable leeway in constructing the standards. This may lead to misleading or ineffective disclosures.
All I can say is that considering the novelty of regulating the fashion industry for environmental issues, the industry still needs to brainstorm the standards it wants to impose on itself. In the least, having a possible course of action is better than having no way to confirm the lofty promises certain companies have been setting forth. The point is to start somewhere—and then get better.
 Kirsi Niinimäki et al., The Environmental Price of Fast Fashion, 1 Nature R. Earth Environment 189 (2020).
 Vanessa Friedman, New York Could Make History With a Fashion Sustainability Act, N. Y. Times (Jan. 7, 2022)
 S. A8352, 2021-2022 Gen. Assemb. (N.Y. 2021).
 Beth Esponnette, New York’s Fashion Act? More Like Fashion Won’t Act, Bus. of Fashion (Jan. 21, 2022).
 Jason M. Halper et al., Is Sustainability En Vogue or the Newest Staple? What New York’s Proposed Fashion Sustainability and Social Accountability Act Could Mean for the Fashion and Other Industries, Nat’l L. R. (Feb. 11, 2022).