A purely digital fashion week must do very little or no damage to the environment, right?
Not so fast.
Consider that real estate accounts for more than 30 percent of greenhouse gas emissions at physical events, taking into account the venues, plus restaurants and hotels catering to the needs of attendees.
Even with a digital event, “it doesn’t really mean the attendees are not using real estate even though it’s their own home or a local café — and humans still need to eat and dress themselves,” said Morten Rosén, head of partnerships and sales at Normative, the Swedish tech company that has been conscripted by Helsinki Fashion Week to assess the environmental impact of its first digital edition, slated for this summer.
“This is the first time that we are measuring the impact of a purely digital event, and we get to make the comparison with the physical edition of the same event, so this is exciting to say the least,” Rosén enthused. “We have been constantly surprised when nerding out and measuring the eco-friendliness of different organizations, products and events.”
Helsinki Fashion Week, founded in 2016 as a sustainable event, had already taken a radical approach to its physical incarnation, showcasing only eco-minded designers, ferrying guests and models in electric cars, feeding attendees food rescued from the waste stream, and using only renewable energy. There was even homemade kombucha.
Now “we are in the beginning of digital sustainability where we have the opportunity to control and curate our presence in the cyber environments,” said Evelyn Mora, founder of Helsinki Fashion Week. “As we see Helsinki as a test bed, we want to focus on the most innovative approaches to sustainability.”
Her hope is to calculate how much the week will save by going digital, and measure the resources, time and energy that goes into hosting it in cyberspace, accounting for programmers, developers and 3-D designers.
Among overlooked sources of eco damage is the digital ecosystem itself, according to Rosén.
“Did you know that data servers the size of multiple Walmarts coming up like mushrooms from the ground already have surpassed all global aviation in terms of carbon emissions? That’s only counting the direct energy the data servers consume and the sources of that energy often being fossil fuel-based,” he said, citing research done by Lancaster University. “The average global citizen uses their smartphone, laptop and Netflix account in a frequency unrivaled to their aviation habits.
“Simply because it’s digital does not by default make it sustainable,” he stressed. “We need to start making sustainable choices on our journey towards digitalization, too. ”
Normative is currently “crunching all the data points” from the most recent IRL Helsinki Fashion Week using its proprietary software, and preparing to monitor the digital one, which will encompass 3-D fashion shows, interactive livestreams, and cyber networking opportunities. “We will be looking into energy use stemming from bandwidth, impact from the preparations before the fashion week, and we will compare this to the alternative reality where the attendants traveled with their bodies instead of their minds in the digital space,” Rosén explained.
Normative, founded in 2014, employs a software tool that yields measurements close to an environmental profit-and-loss account, but automated. “And we link our software directly into data sources such as inventory systems and procurement systems, so the data and analysis generated happens on a real-time basis, not every other year,” Rosén said.
Mora also charged Normative with monitoring the social impacts of its digital fashion week.
“When we now move into an era with digitalization, fashion companies will have new sustainability challenges to tackle; cyber security, mental health in the digital landscape, social inclusion and the digital divide will be questions at the table,” according to Rosén. “The companies who are in the forefront of creating a safe space for their digital community will gain a tremendous competitive advantage and become the long-term winners.”
Mora plans to create avatars for all of Helsinki’s 15 participating designers, and enlisted an affiliate company, Lukso.io, to measure their environmental and social impact. Also in the works is a tool for attendees to calculate the personal sustainability impact of their digital avatars during fashion week, and on the web in general.
“We can also benefit from blockchain in attaching the avatars of our users into the blockchain, creating digital identities of them, allowing them to be mindful and transparent of their own digital footprint, therefore enabling more considerate action,” she explained.
Helsinki Fashion Week is scheduled for July 27 to Aug. 1. It will be preceded by a week of “designers in residence” content.
Normative hopes to provide information on the event’s eco impact in real time so participants can understand the impact of the event, and their own online behavior generally. Rosén noted that standard EP&L reporting can be “hard to grasp, and doesn’t prompt an emotional reaction.”