pollution ? what is the carbon footprint of your yoga pants
Published: 29-07-2022 - Last Edited: 12-10-2022
More frequently, Yogis are green advocates and passionate preachers of Yin & Yang and the harmony between humans and nature. Many Yogis also take up the more green dietary lifestyle; vegetarian or vegan. And we accentuate being awake and being conscious.
But are we yogis the more conscious consumers? Are we more sustainable in our consumption?
Do yogis know the environmental impacts of yoga-related consumption? It is essential to be informed to objectively assess the consequences of our lifestyle choices and make more informed decisions to live the life we aspire to live.
On that note, it is noteworthy to look at the yoga industry’s carbon emission contributions in the context of climate change and mitigating carbon emissions.
So, Here is taking a closer look at the carbon footprint of practicing yoga.
Carbon Emissions of the Yoga Industry
According to Mckinsey’s “Fashion on Climate” report, the fashion industry made up more than 4% of the global greenhouse gas emissions in 2018. According to UNEP’s more recent analysis, the fashion industry is one of the most significant contributors to the climate and ecological crisis.
It takes up to 2 to 8% of global carbon emissions (roughly the same or little more than worldwide shipping and aviation emissions combined). It is projected to miss the 2030 emissions reduction targets by 50% on its current trajectory. The sportswear category, where yoga apparel belongs, is considered one of the most impacting pollution.
Also Read>>> Online Yoga Teacher Training
The Global Sports & Fitness Clothing Market is expected to reach $221.3 Billion by 2026.  In another analysis, the market size of global sportswear was valued at USD 303.44 billion in 2021. And it is expected to expand at a compound annual growth (CAGR) of 5.8% from 2022 to 2028. 
The trajectory is on growth, and this means more consumers will be out to buy more athletic sportswear.
More demand means more production, and production leaves carbon emissions.
No fashion brand has yet to achieve scope three emissions tracking.
According to the scheme set up by the Greenhouse Gas Protocol for emissions reporting, emissions are broken down into Scope 1, 2, and 3.
Scope 1 emissions stem directly from companies burning fossil fuels from their owned or controlled facilities. Scope 2 emissions come from energy bought from utility providers(purchased energy).
Scope 3 emissions are all the other indirect emissions that occur along the value chain. For the CDP(Carbon Disclosure Project) report, companies provide only the “gross global combined Scope 1 and 2 emissions”. They then self-report whether these have increased or decreased against revenue increase, leaving scope 3 out of the picture.
Also Read>>> How to Choose Your Eco Friendly Yoga Mat
Nike’s Scope 1 emissions – the CO2 produced by the company’s combustion of fossil fuels – have grown yearly since 2016. It includes retail, distribution, and offices, among other things.
Nike reported that in 2015, they emitted 17,975 metric tonnes of CO2, and in 2021 this number increased to 47,398(a 163% increase from 2015.) H&M’s emission has risen from 10,723 in 2015 to 11,973 in 2021, down from a high of 13,380 in 2020.
Most importantly, many companies exclude Scope 3 emissions, categorized as upstream or downstream. This means that most companies are not reporting the holistic picture of total pollution, which includes the emission from all of their supply chain.
Although Nike is tracking scope three emissions, it does not mean they provide an absolute total amount by combing all their supply chain.
H&M is accounting for and targeting its Scope 3 emissions. Scope 1 and 2 emissions stand for less than 1% of H&M’s reported emissions, and their main focus is Scope 3. 
Environmental Impact of sportswear
The reason why sportswear causes much environmental pollution is because of its fabrics used. Cotton requires massive amounts of water to produce(10,000literes for 1kg), and harmful fertilizers are used during the harvesting process, which also contributes to the problem.
After the harvest, water is consumed in large quantities while dyeing the fabrics.
The fashion industry also accounts for a fifth of the 300m tons of plastic produced each year around the globe. This is because plastic is one of the primary fabric materials besides cotton.
Other commonly used fabrics in sportswear include polyester, Spandex, and Nylon.
These are all petroleum products, one of the main contributors to fossil fuel and carbon emissions. Polyester, specifically, is breaking cotton’s record as the primary material of textile production.
Polyester and other synthetic fibers significantly cause microplastic pollution, critically impacting marine life. . It is worth mentioning that yoga pants are mostly made of synthetic fibers like polyester, nylon, and spandex.
It’s not only the producing part. The end of life for the apparel is also problematic. Only a fraction of what’s manufactured gets recycled in the fashion industry. 87% of the total fiber input used for clothing is ultimately incinerated or sent to a landfill.
The U.S. throws away the equivalent of about 70 pairs of pants per person in waste from clothes and footwear each year. Sportswear and yoga pants are not an exemption.
Yoga mats are also the primary source of pollution. Most standard yoga mats are made of PVC, otherwise known as vinyl.
The primary raw materials for PVC are made from salt and oil (Combining chlorine with ethylene, then converting ethylene dichloride to vinyl chloride monomer).
This process is highly reliant on the use of fossil fuels.  The options for reusing or recycling yoga mats are limited because it requires further chemical processing to transform a mat into another PVC product.
Therefore, most PVC mats end up in landfills. Some end up contributing to the toxic problem of plastic waste in our oceans.
Some yoga activities can also be a source of pollution. Take Hot yoga, for example. There’s often an environmental impact from the increased use of fossil fuel, hydroelectric, or nuclear power in heating studios. And in addition, there are all the extra showers and laundry machines needed to deal with sweaty bodies and clothes. 
If we look into scope three emissions, even yoga travels are the attributing source of emissions. Many yogis dream of attending yoga retreats in beautiful overseas/domestic locations, and we must physically travel to attend these events or training sessions with specific teachers.
Famous or renowned yoga teachers often travel from one place to another to lead training, events, retreats, and conferences. All these travel inevitably leave greenhouse gas emissions as we use different modes of transportation.
Carbon reduction efforts in the Yoga Industry
Yoga industry carbon reduction with Lululemon leading the scene
With technological developments and enough human will, carbon reduction is not impossible. There are ways innovation is being made in the Yoga industry as well. Here is a case of Lululemon and some of the company’s carbon emission strategies as a part of their broader sustainability & ESG goals(from lululemon 2020 Impact Agenda).
- By 2025, achieve at least 75% sustainable materials products: fibers that are recycled, renewable, regenerative, sourced responsibly, or some combination of them. Also, make sure these materials are manufactured using low-resource processes.
- By 2030, they will make 100% of products with sustainable materials and end-of-use solutions and offer guests new options to extend the life of their products by 2025
- Source 100$ Renewable electricity to power their operations by 2021, reduce carbon emissions across the global supply chain by 60% per unit of value-added, to meet their Science-Based Targets by 2030.
- Reduce freshwater use intensity by 50% to manufacture their products and reduce single-use plastic packaging by 50% by 2025.
1) Materials innovation
Extracting and processing virgin materials takes a toll on the land, water, and air. Lululemon’s fabrics account for roughly 50% of their current carbon impacts, not including guest use.
That’s why materials innovation is the cornerstone of their journey to a more sustainable future.
They are trying to adopt better fibers, evolve manufacturing processes, innovate net new materials, and engage industry collaborations to help grow collective solutions.
They assess impacts using the Sustainable Apparel Coalition Higg Materials Sustainability Index (Higg MSI)* and select life-cycle analysis methodologies.
- Nylon: change all the nylon sourced to renewable or recycled content by 2030.
- Polyester: at least 75% of polyester they source should be from recycled content by 2025 and invest in industrial development in fiber-to-fiber recycling.
- Cotton: Sourcing would be from better & responsible platforms-organic, better cotton initiative, recycled, regenerative – by 2025. This alternative sourcing can reduce water and pesticide use and support better cotton farming practices globally.
- Animal-derived material: Ensure that their animal-derived material(such as down jumpers) will be traceable 100% or be certified in line with the Animal-Derived materials policy by 2025.
- Forest-based materials: 100% of their forest-based cellulosic fibers are to be sourced responsibly and be audited or certified by a third party by 2023. They are ensuring their yoga mats are made of natural rubber and certified by the Forest Stewardship Council.
2) New Technology R&D
- Mylo: Investment in sustainable materials and developing a collective alliance towards achieving the goal is essential.
They are a founding member of the Mylo Consortium, which develops Mylo™, an innovative material made using Vegan inputs, grown by mushroom farmers and scientists, that looks and feels like leather.
- Solution Dye: Solution dye is a method that uses 75% less water than traditional methods. The solution is currently used mainly on polyester. However, they are challenging to transfer this approach to more complex nylon materials.
3) New Business models
There are ways to create circularity through innovations in business models, such as new guest models.
- Reselling: engage customers to resell their owned products.
- Design: circular design- considering life cycle.
- Recycle: take back products. Material collection and processing infrastructure.
4) Use of Renewable Energy
They have set Science-based targets to reduce 60% absolute emissions by 2030.
To do this, they will be sourcing 100% renewable energy through virtual power purchase agreements(NA) globally through certified renewable energy credits.
The carbon reduction strategy will be implemented across their value chain, by
- sourcing more sustainable raw materials & fibers.
- engaging their manufacturing partners to achieve energy efficiency in manufacturing processes, stores.
- optimizing logistics, reductions in air freight.
5) Reduce Water Use Intensity
Their goal is to reduce freshwater use intensity by 50% by 2025.
They are developing new dyeing techniques to reduce water use. Creating, processing, and dyeing materials required clean water from 50~100litres per Kilogram of fabric.
But new dyeing techniques scale solution-dyed nylon, reducing water use by at least 75% over traditional methods. Color pigment is added at the raw material stage to reduce water use and carbon emissions.
6) Waste management Packaging
- Recycle: Recycle damaged products and use them as fill for boxing bags or as material for equestrian footing.
- Reduce: Reduce polybags and mailers, improve reusable shopping bags.
As seen from the Lululemon case, significant room and opportunities exist to reduce carbon emissions from sports apparel production.
Major manufacturers take up a considerable part of all decarbonization efforts, but for this to be applied in the entire industry, individual yoga stores, studios, and yogis should also partake.
Studio owners and yogis might consider using renewable heating sources and energy required to run washing machines—and use cold water and an energy-efficient cycle.
For example, some yoga studios use renewable energy sources or purchase carbon offsets. Studios can also use low-flow, energy-efficient water systems (shower heads, taps) and heating systems.
On an individual level, yogis can wash less(both our bodies and clothes!), buy less, or revamp.
It is no joke that yoga has become a trend, and there is materialism involved. Yoga is certainly not immune to trends. Just yesterday alone, I saw significant yoga brands in Korea advertising their up-to 70% off bargain sales and people frantically shopping to stack their wardrobes for a bargain price.
If we can find contentment from within, rather than from a rack of the latest clothing, surely it will benefit our inner peace. But it will also help the environment—thanks to less waste, less carbon from shipping, and less overall frenzy.
And I think yogis have potential. One research (Yüce & Günes, 2021) examined the sustainable consumption behavior of yoga practitioners environmentally, economically, and socially and found that as the yoga experience of individuals increases, their tendency to behave as sustainable consumers also increases.
Research results indicate a positive relationship between yoga experience and sustainable consumption behaviors.
This situation can be explained by the fact that the awareness level increases as the experience deepens. The preconditions of sustainable consumer behaviors are sustainability and awareness of sustainable consumption.
Khalil et al. (2013) express that individuals are willing to integrate and apply the idea and practices of sustainable development in their daily life.
I think we yogis have the potential to become more conscious consumers, maybe more so than others. We need to remember to take a moment to remind ourselves of the Yoga values before our actions are made.
References “Fashion on Climate”, Mckinsey & Company, https://www.mckinsey.com/~/media/mckinsey/industries/retail/our%20insights/fashion%20on%20climate/fashion-on-climate-full-report.pdf.  UNEP(2018), “Putting the breaks on fast fashion”, unep.org/news-and-stories/story/putting-brakes-fast-fashion.  Global Industry Analysts, Inc(2022), “Sports & Fitness Clothing – Global Market Trajectory & Analytics”.  Grandview research, “Activewear Market Size, Share & Trends Analysis Report By End User (Men, Women, Kids), By Distribution Channel (In-store, Online), By Region And Segment Forecasts, 2022 – 2028”  The guardian(2022), “Why ‘eco-conscious’ fashion brands can continue to increase emissions”, https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/apr/09/why-eco-conscious-fashion-brands-can-continue-to-increase-emissions.  Rachael Dottle & Jackie Gu(23 February, 2022), “The Global Glut of Clothing is an Environmental Crisis”, https://www.bloomberg.com/graphics/2022-fashion-industry-environmental-impact/.  Aisling O’Connor(June 17, 2022), “Are Yoga Mats Eco-Friendly? 11 Things You Should Know”, CitizenSustainable, https://citizensustainable.com/yoga-mats/.
Jyoti Naylor(May 25, 2018), “The Uncomfortable Truth about your Plastic Yoga Mat”, https://corkspace.co.uk/blogs/yoga/uncomfortable-truth-about-plastic-yoga-mats. Janice Quirt, “Is Yoga Bad for the Environment?”, Yoga International, https://yogainternational.com/article/view/is-yoga-bad-for-the-environment.