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It's not easy being green

7 months ago
David Surdam
Rack of multi-colored shirts

Companies seeking to project themselves as eco-friendly may find themselves having their very raison d’etre questioned. Zara, a well-known retailer renowned for its rapid responses to changes in fashion, recently announced its plans to reduce its negative impact on the environment.

Manufacturers of inexpensive, ready-to-wear clothing have allowed Americans to fill closets full of clothes. Such stores as Forever 21 and H&M sell very inexpensive, almost throw-away, clothes that afford younger people the opportunity to wear a variety of outfits.

Kermit the Frog famously sang ‘It’s not easy being green.’ His wisdom is sorely needed these days.

For some environmental experts, Zara’s business model is a problem. The reality is that producing the raw materials for clothes damages the environment in many different ways. Because these clothes are intended to be discarded quickly, the sheer volume produced, even under the best ecological practices, creates substantial environmental damage. The company’s policy of launching thousands of new designs yearly may be inherently undesirable from an environmental perspective.

Besides the retailer, however, what about consumers? Each of us has a responsibility to consider the environmental impact associated with our wardrobe. Should we opt for a relatively small number of high-quality items instead of disposable, trendy clothes? Even this decision is fraught with environmental ramifications. How we care for our clothes matters, as detergents, hot water, and, ultimately, disposal affect the environment. Knowing the environmental effects of our daily decisions is daunting.

There is one almost surefire way to reduce our adverse environmental impact: use less. We should carefully consider whether we need an additional commodity. Yes, if we all reduce our purchases of goods, there will probably be a negative economic effect. Zara is to be commended for at least taking steps to reduce its ecological impact.

The views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not imply endorsement by the University of Northern Iowa.


Headshot of David Surdam

David Surdam

David Surdam received his Ph.D. in Economics from the University of Chicago. His dissertation, "Northern Naval Superiority and the Economics of the American Civil War," was supervised by Nobel-Prize Winner, Robert Fogel. Professor Surdam has taught at the University of Chicago, Northwestern University, Loyola University of Chicago, and the University of Oregon.

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Submitted by Ashley Goebel on
This post was very interesting to me because I have never thought about the impact of the cheap clothes that I buy. With being a college kid, you don't have the money to buy the same amount of good quality clothing as you do cheap clothing. I always thought to buy things cheaper with less quality because by the time the trends change, the clothes are ready to be thrown away anyway. After reading this post, I now think that I should try to buy less from stores like Forever 21 in hopes to help the environment. The title of this article is completely correct. It's not easy being green, especially when you didn't even think that buying from stores like Forever 21 and H&M had an impact.

Submitted by Sydnee Wrage on
I have been working in the retail fashion industry for about 9 months now, and I have seen trends change and the environment affected. The boutique I work at buys from whole sale vendors out in California, where the packages come COVERED in plastic, paper and unnecessary amounts of cardboard. Zara, a big fashion retailer is located all over the globe, but they have a variety of trends and clothing options for all consumers. I think that it is the responsibility of the retailer, whether it is a small business boutique or a large corporation like Zara, to be mindful and aware of what they can contribute to help our environment. Many consumers have the environment in the back of their mind when they are shopping for things such as plastic water bottles, where we know they aren't good at all, but almost nobody is thinking about stores like Zara. I think that it would be great if all large fashion retailers looked into thrifting some of their clothes, and do more re-buying. After all, every store sets a different tone, and image to the consumer. They are setting the trends, and fast fashion has taken a rise in the past 4 years, mainly due to social media and everyone wanting to be on trend.

Submitted by Mattie Starbeck on
I find this article interesting. Fast fashion has become a topic that seems to come up a lot now, especially within the younger teen generations. Consumers are wanting cheaper clothes even though the quality isn't the best, and the clothes are worn out fast. If you look at it, it seems as if they are just throw away clothes. You wear the item a couple times and then its no longer wearable because the quality it cheaper. I myself have boughten clothes from forever 21 or h&m and I only got a couple wears out of them. It has a major negative impact on our environment that consumers need to be aware of.