Completely obscure, just like sustainability : a critical analysis of circular economy principles within the Swedish fashion industry
Sammanfattning: The fashion industry is currently operating at high levels of material throughput leading to global annual emissions reaching a staggering 4 metric gigatons of CO2e. Almost reaching the levels of the entire EU-28 in 2015 of 4.45 metric gigatons. As consumption levels could increase by as much as 63% by 2030 there is urgency to address the situation. The application of Circular Economy (CE) principles within the Swedish fashion industry has received increasing attention where it is promoted to offer a pathway for sustainable transformation, within the political and industry discourse. By employing strategies towards intensified product and material use avenues are explored to overcome the throwaway linear economic system to avoid resources becoming waste. However, previous research shows that sustainability science is not sufficiently engaging in critical analysis of the CE concept. Additionally, there is low consensus concerning the underlying values and ideological foundation of the CE and if it is conducive for enabling action and change towards a more sustainable production and consumption system within the fashion industry. This thesis therefore conducts an analysis of current research and development for a fashion CE within the Swedish context utilising Robert Cox’s critical theory framework. The aim is to contribute to a better understanding of what the CE can contribute to improve sustainability within this production and consumption system. This is done through interviews with leading researchers, review of academic and grey literature within the field of CE and fashion, as well as review of policy relevant documents. Findings from this analysis show that there is an important initial position held within much of the empirical material, that an absolute reduction of material consumption needs to take place. However, the ways in which this in envisioned and actualised within the confines of the CE concept is not found to be conducive for this goal. Instead it produces a depoliticising account of consumers where business models and sustained economic growth obscures the limiting factors in decoupling economic growth from material consumption. The role envisioned for formal institutions, as simply a facilitator of economic growth and market failure adjuster, is found to be insufficient to meet the demands for improvements to the sustainability performance of the industry. However, structural constraints within the international political domain poses significant barriers towards imposing stronger actions for promoting a sustainable transformation within the fashion industry.
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