The Truth About Zara’s Big Sustainability Commitments

Can one of the world’s largest fast fashion companies ever truly be environmentally sustainable?

Imagine you’re scrolling through Tik Tok when you see a video about the popular fashion brand Zara’s newest fall essentials. The must-have clothes are so cute and well-priced, but you hesitate. Is Zara, a fast fashion retailer, eco-friendly or even sustainable? How do they manage their environmental impact? Should you be looking for a different, more sustainably made sweater?

We’ll give you the basics on Zara’s role in the fast fashion industry. Then we’ll analyze the plans Zara has announced for sustainability and the environment. All in all, it’s probably best to consider alternative  brands to Zara.

Photo: Zara – ‘Indulge’

Is the fast fashion industry bad for the environment?

The fast fashion industry is even worse for the environment than you’d think. Here are three major facts about how the fashion industry hurts the environment:

  • Apparel and footwear production contribute 8.1% of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions- as much as the climate impact of the entire EU. 
  • The fashion industry is the second largest consumer of water world-wide, causing 20% of all industrial water pollution.
  • Producing and washing textiles releases plastic microfibers, which account for 20-35% of plastic pollution.

Zara is a fast fashion company. This business model keeps up with current trends by constantly making new products and selling them for low prices. That means making lots of clothing with a production process that’s terrible for the planet. It also means more clothing enters the landfill once it’s out of style. Fast fashion amplifies the harmful effects of the fashion industry. As a part of Inditex, the world’s largest fashion retailer, Zara is one of the worst offenders.

What are Zara’s green initiatives?

The Zara website lists a lot of wordy, vague initiatives wiith claims to improve environmental sustainability. Put simply, here are the steps in their plan to “reduce the impact of their products.” 

  • Zara pledges that by 2025, all their cotton, linen, and polyester will be organic, sustainable, or recycled.
  • They use recycled packaging and want to eliminate single-use plastics by 2023.
  • Zara and Greenpeace teamed up to stop using toxic chemicals in production in order to reduce chemical waste.
  • Water.org and Zara are collaborating to support farming communities that can serve as suppliers of ecologically grown cotton.
  • Customers can drop off their used clothes at a store, and they’ll be recycled or reused.
  • Renewable energy will begin to power more stores.

Photo: Zara Collaboration with Water.org

Will Zara’s fast fashion ever be green?

These ideas may sound nice on paper, but in practice there’s a big problem. Zara announced a sustainability plan- but they won’t change their business model. Fast fashion companies are always going to be inherently unsustainable and bad for the environment. Zara launches 500 styles each week. They sell a shocking total of over 450 million items per year. Whether or not Zara holds up their claims to use recycled packaging or ecologically grown cotton, they’re pumping out so much product that they will never be green.

The fast fashion business model conflicts with sustainability in the first place. Even if Zara reaches their green goals, it’s still part of the world’s largest fashion retailer. They will always be a big reason that fast fashion is wasteful and unsustainable.

Is Zara holding itself accountable?

Zara also has an accountability issue: there is no evidence that the company is on track to meet their goals. Zara has not been transparent in the past. E-mails inquiring about working conditions and the facility supply chain go unanswered for weeks at a time. Perhaps the sustainability data may never get released. Meanwhile, H&M has been accused of “greenwashing”- pretending to be more sustainable than it truly is. Skeptics think Zara could just be trying to market their products to conscious shoppers.

It’s also worth mentioning that there is some evidence Zara isn’t the most ethical company. Find out more about factory workers’ low wages and Zara’s shady COVID-19 related worker layoffs.

Maybe in a Few Years, Zara

So, should you buy those cute clothes you saw on Tik Tok? It would probably be best not to do so. Until we see some concrete results, Zara’s plans are just lofty claims from a fast fashion giant. Instead, consider some sustainable alternative brands to Zara. These stores have great ethics and nice clothes. Also be sure to check out Rebolt’s blog post “The lowdown on fast fashion and how to shop sustainably.” The environment will thank you!

If you want to shop sustainably without taking the time to do research, try out our new browser extension! Rebolt will do the due diligence for you and present it to you at checkout. Supporting companies with good ethics just got way easier. Sign up to try the beta version today.

Photo: EsgClarity