Ecological and social footprint

A growing population means that more raw products are needed to fulfil their textiles needs.


Growing natural fibres such as cotton or bamboo can lead to the degradation of soil. This can lead farmers to expand into other areas, destroying natural habitats. The use of pesticides and water supplies also affects the wildlife in an area. Rearing animals for their wool, such as sheep or alpacas, also leads to expanding land requirements, which can cause deforestation and loss of habitat.


Drilling for oil to produce man-made synthetic textiles requires large storage areas and refining plants to change the oil into the materials needed for manufacturing. This process can be harmful to the environment. Oil is non-renewable and, when refined, produces fabrics that do not biodegrade easily.

Whenever environmental impact is to be reduced, ‘the 6 Rs’ can be addressed to ensure an in-depth analysis has been done. The 6 Rs can be considered by the designer, the manufacturer and the consumer to reduce that negative impact on the environment.

Considering the 6 Rs when designing food packaging

The 6 Rs, reduce, reuse, recycle, rethink, refuse and repair illustrated around a rubbish bin.

The 6 Rs

The term ‘the 6 Rs’ can be applied to the design of new products or when a product is finished with, used up or no longer wanted. Here are some points to prompt 6 Rs thinking:

  • Reduce - Reducing the number of products created and used saves on waste going into landfill. Reducing the amount of energy or materials used during production can help the environment, eg changing a lay plan to avoid waste.
  • Reuse - Reusing products rather than buying new ones saves both waste being sent to landfill and energy as less is being manufactured. Some customers may look for longer lasting fashions that they can wear multiple times, rather than a piece that may be worn once.
  • Recycle - Some fabrics and fibres can be recycled into other products - unwearable clothing can be shredded and reformed into household insulation or some plastic bottles can be reformed into filament fibres to create microfleece.
  • Rethink - Consumers now have more knowledge and choice about buying environmentally friendly products, causing designers and manufacturers to rethink their production techniques to conserve power, water and fuel emissions, eg the development of more environmentally friendly dyeing techniques results in less contaminated waste water.
  • Refuse - Consumers may refuse to buy products that have been treated with synthetic pesticides (such as non-organic cotton), which can lead to pollution of soil or water in the area. Others may look for items that are fair trade or avoid animal products.
  • Repair - Repairing broken or damaged textile products reduces waste and saves energy on production, eg darning holes in knitted clothing.