A strange and wonderful thing happened on the way to the Golden Globes this year. Both on the carpet and online, a bit of “green” began to sprout through the red carpet. And with it, high fashion, television and movie production, and celebrities took one small step toward sustainability.

The Green Carpet Challenge at the 2012 Golden Globes was the third annual attempt by Livia Firth to inspire her fellow celebrities to use their star power to “promote social justice, environmental integrity, and the very best in design.” Firth wore a sustainable Giorgio Armani gown made from recycled plastic fabric (which had its origins in plastic bottles collected in Northern Italy). At least ten other top name designers participated as well.

There is no doubt that celebrities can help set trends for sustainability. Leonardo DiCaprio and other “green-minded” celebrities were credited with speeding the adoption of the then-considered-funny-looking Toyota hybrid Prius. But will celebrities have a similar impact in speeding sustainable fashion?

There are several challenges specific to fashion that need to be considered:

  • The very nature of fashion is to enable us to stand out, to visually communicate about ourselves, and to distinguish us from the pack. However, our ethics and our choices to live and dress sustainably are only one side of our many-faceted personalities. It is the rare (and annoying) person who will choose to always declare loudly the sustainability of her outfit. In the context of many other personal style choices (color, fit, etc.), sustainability will most often be communicated only subtly. In other words, sustainable fashion will always be more complicated than a t-shirt with the phrase “I hug trees” written on it or a large and visible fair trade label. The implication for companies is that sustainability must become part of fashion brands’ ethos, which is then reflected in how the company operates and communicates to consumers.
  • The products that are truly sustainable in every aspect of their impacts (on water, energy, waste, biodiversity, etc.) do not yet exist. Instead, we have some products on the market which are marginally better than others in significant but incremental ways. This is inherently difficult to communicate to consumers.
  • Fashion products have extended supply chains with hidden impacts. We must achieve a greater degree of transparency to address the many sustainability challenges in the industry, including wages, working hours, and health and safety for workers, in addition to environmental impacts.
  • Finally, sustainability costs money. Whether consumers, companies, governments, workers, or the environment gets the bill, we must find ways to reduce the cost of sustainability investments, to capture their benefits, and to share the value created in ways that are just and socially acceptable.

So, will Hollywood lead us to sustainable fashion? Yes, but there are many hands guiding the loom that knits the green carpet--and we’re not quite ready for our close up.

Want to get involved? BSR has launched a project on sustainable consumption of fashion with the Danish Fashion Institute. Keep informed by following @codysisco and #NICECONSUMER.