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Why the Built Environment and Fashion Industries Are Primed to Lead the Recovery?

Published by WEF in collaboration with Laudes Foundation. Written by Amol Mehra.

The built environment and fashion industries account for massive amounts of energy usag and employ millions.

Image by by Markus Winkler on Unsplash, World Economic Forum

By focusing on decarbonisation and the promotion of labour rights protections, these industries can create economic opportunities that promote a more human and environment-centred way of doing business. As these industries start to realise the value of transforming practices, the momentum will increase for other sectors to follow suit.

Set against rising calls for action to combat growing inequality and the climate crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic underscores the importance of the key drivers of industry and economic reform: workers, communities and the environment.

The crisis has laid bare the perils of relying on purely market-based approaches. This should not be a surprise to those who have long railed against the free market, shareholder-centric approach, derived from current neoliberal economic narratives.

The tide is turning, however, and business leaders are starting to understand that their legitimacy may hinge on how they respond. Those who seize this moment will surely benefit from the swing in momentum towards a more human and environment-centered approach to doing business.


These two industries – the built environment and fashion – are sectors that are ripe for transformation and where even subtle shifts have potential for wide-reaching transformation.

THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT (buildings and construction) accounts for massive amounts of energy usage and about 40% of global CO2 emissions, providing a clear pathway to shift current consumption and production pathways.

The construction sector accounts for around 13% of the world’s GDP and for 7.2% of the global workforce.

Many of the jobs linked to these sector have a negative history of labour rights, especially with respect to migrant labourers. As experts have noted, the scale of the industry and its relative impacts on labour markets and the environment make it a prime agent of transformation of the broader global economy.

By prioritizing approaches that focus on decarbonization and the promotion of labour rights protections, we can create economic opportunities that promote healthy, regenerative structures. Efforts are starting to seed in this regard, with increased attention being placed to mass timber and other wood products in construction, as well as the use of natural materials in buildings.

FASHION INDUSTRY isn’t the only sector with transformative power. While there have been laudable innovations in recent years towards adopting circularity and increasing the use of organic materials, there is still huge potential to promote transformative change in protections for workers.

Fashion sector produces nearly 10% of the world’s carbon emissions and is the second largest consumer of the water, all while employing between 60 and 70 million workers in garment supply chains.

Workers in the sector are often left without social protections, exposing them to vulnerability. In recognition of this need, the International Labour Organization, business actors and labour rights leaders have committed to take action to protect garment workers’ income, health and employment, and to work together to establish sustainable systems of social protection for a more just and resilient garment industry.

This “Call to Action” launched in April 2020 and now needs steady implementation. The effort should seek to cast a wide tent, bringing in other industry players and leveraging development actors as well.

Read the full article from WEF.


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