Renting clothes and especially outfits for special occasions has become a new trend and is generally considered to be a sustainable choice. The clothing rental service The Ateljé wanted to understand the climate impact of renting clothes compared to buying new and turned to Spark Sustainability for help. The results are definitely positive.
In the face of climate change and the loss of biodiversity, circular business models are growing increasingly popular. Rental services are examples of circular businesses that are often founded with the purpose of reducing the industry’s environmental impact. Yet these services have sometimes been accused of causing a higher environmental impact compared to traditional ownership scenarios.
Spark set out to find out how the climate impact of The Ateljé’s clothes rental services compares to that of traditional clothes ownership. As most of The Ateljé’s customers are looking for a fancy outfit for a special occasion with a formal dress code, such as a wedding, the garment chosen for the study was a dress.
The idea behind clothes rental businesses is that renting would replace purchasing of clothes to a certain extent. In order to examine how long-term changes in purchase habits affect the results, a scenario of 4 years of using dresses for formal occasions was depicted.
For example, if an individual rents a dress for half of all the special occasions during that 4-year period and purchases dresses for the rest, how does it compare to someone that purchases dresses for all occasions?
Generally, emissions arise from garment production, distribution and retail, usage, and end-of-life. The focus in Spark’s report for The Ateljé is on the use phase – including user transport to and from the store or rental shop, as well as laundry, ironing or steaming of the dress. Emissions resulting from the remaining areas (production, distribution and retail, and end-of-life) were obtained from a study by Sandin et al. (2019).
The factors having the biggest impact on the results in the use phase are the user transport method as well as the use frequency of the dress. Thus, the study contained twelve different sub-scenarios in order to examine how different transport methods and use frequencies affect the results.
We examined two different main scenarios (so-called functional units):
In addition to the main scenarios, there are a number of sub-scenarios to account for differences in:
The results show that using more rental services is preferable in 11 out of 12 scenarios: in the scenario where the dress is used a lot and the user travels by car to purchase or rent the dress, ownership is more climate-friendly.
As can be seen in the picture, the results indicate that the more purchases are replaced with rentals, the smaller the climate impact for 4 years of formal dress use. Though user transport emissions increase, emissions from production, distribution and retail, and end-of-life decrease. This is because the “fixed” emissions are shared with other rental users, and rental dresses are estimated to be used more often than purchased dresses.
These results align with previous research on the topic. An interesting find when comparing different studies is that the type of garment rented seems to have a big impact on the results: from a climate perspective, it is more beneficial to rent formal wear and other garments that are usually not worn until their end-of-life, while wardrobe basics that are worn a lot, such as for instance jeans or T-shirts, can be purchased.
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Sandin, G., et al., 2019
Environmental assessment of Swedish clothing consumption - six garments, sustainable futures
Anna is an energy engineer with a passion for emission data visualisations and trail running.
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