Household Sustainability

Household Sustainability

Challenges and Dilemmas in Everyday Life

Chris Gibson, Carol Farbotko, Nicholas Gill, Lesley Head and Gordon Waitt

The authors engage critically, and constructively, with the proposition that households are a key scale of action on climate change. They confront dilemmas of practice and circumstance, and cultural norms of lifestyle and consumerism that are linked to troublesome environmental problems – and question whether they can be easily unsettled. The work also illuminates the informal and often unheralded work by households – frequently the poorest – in reducing their environmental burden. This important book is critical to understanding both the barriers to household sustainability and the ‘unsung’ sustainability work carried out by householders.

Chapter 3: Clothes

Chris Gibson, Carol Farbotko, Nicholas Gill, Lesley Head and Gordon Waitt

Subjects: economics and finance, environmental economics, environment, climate change, environmental economics, environmental sociology


For all but the most committed nudists, clothing is an essential need. It is thus a central, though far from straightforward, part of the household sustainability story. Clothing accounts for between 5 and 26 per cent of total household water use, up to 14 per cent of total household waste, and between 7 and 10 per cent of total ecological footprint, according to methodology and country (Tukker et al. 2006; ACF 2007; Kenway et al. 2008). The purchasing, use and disposal of clothing generates on average 0.8 tonnes of CO2-e per household per annum (or 8000 garbage bags filled with CO2) (Wright et al. 2009). Clothing also contributes to other ecological problems such as excess water use, and groundwater, soil and air pollution in its production, distribution and consumption. What further complicates the dilemmas of sustainability surrounding cloth- ing is that, as an industry and practice of consumption, clothing is also fash- ion: most people own more clothing than they need, and only regularly wear a fraction of it, replacing and replicating items seasonally (or even more often) without necessarily needing new clothes (Gibson and Stanes 2010). Clothing is, arguably, the exemplar commodity to illustrate the difference between an object’s use value (its basic utility to humans) and its exchange value (what that object is worth on the market based on what people are prepared to pay). Our behaviour with regards to clothing is only partly based on its use value; instead we buy, wear, dispose and replace clothing based on aesthetics, appear- ances, and emotion. This difference is what distinguishes clothing as a cultural industry – whereby the cultural logics of fashion, subculture, marketing and identity deeply shape the organization of its manufacture, and consumption practices within the household. Clothing is practical, ubiquitous and necessary, but also indulgent, often impractical, decorative and symbolic.

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