Sustainability concerns the entire textile value chain

How the textile industry is responsible for environmental health and social topics

Facts and Figures

  • The textile industry is a 2.5 trillion (USD) business 1
  • The textile industry is the second largest water consumer of all industries worldwide with a consumption rate of 20% of all the water used on earth 1
  • 8% of global air emissions are caused by the textile, apparel, and footwear industries 1
  • Every year 0.5 million tons of micro-fibres find their way into our oceans 1
  • Textile production generates more greenhouse gas emissions than all intercontinental flights and marine shipping combined 1
  • More textiles are produced year after year, despite the fact that about 40% of the clothes hanging in the closets of the industrial nations are never worn. 85% of the textiles that are no longer used land in landfills; that is 21 million tons per year 1
  • Textile production consumes a lot of natural resources incl. oil, and produces waste, which is sometimes contaminated with chemical compounds (chemical waste). It is time to integrate sustainable processes into the various production cycles and to inform consumers about the possibilities to make their individual contribution

There are many aspects to textile sustainability – the Sustainable Development Goals of the UN are a guide to a holistic view and to the fields of action that enable everyone to contribute to the achievement of these internationally agreed goals.

Key benchmark and holistic approach

The UN sustainable development goals (SDGs)

The United Nations has defined 17 goals for sustainable development

»The Sustainable Development Goals are the blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all. They address the global challenges we face, including those related to poverty, inequality, climate, environmental degradation, prosperity, and peace and justice. The goals interconnect and in order to leave no one behind, it is important that we achieve each goal and target by 2030.« 2

Why the SDGs are important and relevant for the textile industry

The textile and apparel industry carry a huge potential to contribute to the SDG‘s. Ecological and social challenges are a day to day topic for the players in this industry, in addition to animal welfare issues, an approach to biodiversity, and financial risks. Most of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals are relevant to the textile and apparel industry, as the future of this industry is highly linked to the overall achievement in overcoming the planetary boundaries.

 

The UN sustainable development goals (SDGs)

PERFORMANCE DAYS rises to the sustainability challenge

»The topic of sustainability has been a focus of PERFORMANCE DAYS in past seasons. Beginning with this edition, the fair takes it another step further: The new selection process for fabrics to be shown in the PERFORMANCE FORUM will only consider fabrics that are certified as sustainable and/or have been manufactured from sustainably obtained components.«


These Technologies and fibres are used by the exhibitors

Fibres from recycled materials

  • Post-consumer recycled PES only from PET (plastic bottles, especially those reclaimed from the
    oceans like Seaqual)
  • Recycled polyamide pre- and postconsumer (also from marine waste such as Econyl)
  • Recycled elastane (Roica)
  • Recycled polyester with food waste components (e.g. oyster shell, coffee grounds, etc.)

 

Chemical fibres from biomass

  • Polyamide made of castor bean oil (Ultramid and others)
  • Polyester made of foodwaste biomass PLA‘s (only agricultural waste such as sugar cane waste)
  • Biomass products are not supported if their production competes with food cultivation!

 

Renewable fibres

  • Modal
  • Tencel
  • Tencel refibra (with recycled cotton scraps)
  • Triacetate

 

Natural fibres of plant-based origin

  • Organic Cotton
  • Linen
  • Hemp
  • Organic Silk
  • Kapok

New on the scene: Fibres made of soy, ginger, abaca, Himalayan nettle and paper yarn (manila hemp)

 

Natural fibres of animal origin

  • Virgin wool with certificates
  • Merino wool with certificates
  • Yak wool
  • Alpaca wool

New on the scene: Eco Heather (all natural spinning waste like remnants of cotton, viscose, wool, etc. are processed into a new blended fibre)

 

Recycled natural fibres

  • Recycled cotton
  • Recycled wool
  • Tencel refibra (with recycled cotton scraps)

 

The fabrics shown in the PERFORMANCE FORUM also have other sustainable features …

  • Certificates: GOTS, GRS, RWS, bluesign, Oeko-Tex 100, and in-house certifications
  • The fabrics and laminates are PFC-free – both the DWRs and the membranes
  • Water saving dyeing methods like solution dye or dope dye are used
  • Instead of chemicals: Some fabrics are not dyed or are dyed with natural dyes; water-based printings or finishings are possible

How the textile industry can meet its ecological challenges

The earth’s resources are not infinite. We are looting nature and consuming or polluting too many of our limited resources. This year, Earth Overshoot Day was designated as July 29th3. The significance of that date is that it marked the point at which we had already consumed the amount of raw material that the planet can regenerate in one year. Several of the SDGs tell us what we all, whether private persons or corporate entities, must do.


The UN‘s ecological sustainability goals

Goal 6: Clean, accessible water for all is an essential part of the world we want to live in

The textile industry is one of the industries known for high volume water consumption. In the case of the natural fibres, large volumes of water are already used in cultivating the raw materials; but even synthetic fibre production requires large volumes of water in the downstream processing steps such as desizing, dyeing, washing and, if necessary, finishing processes. This is the part of the so-called water footprint that can be immediately influenced by the textile sector.
However, large volumes of water are also consumed in washing and cleaning the garments during the use phase. This part of the water footprint is primarily influenced by the consumer, but here too the textile industry can make a contribution – by their choice of colors and fabrics as well as by providing the consumer with professional care recommendations.

Best Practice: Measures to support the protection and conservation of water are known

Water conservation processes have been developed and used for many years in the textile industry. For quite some time, European companies have had economic as well as environmental reasons to focus on continuous improvement processes,
whereas companies in other regions have not been similarly motivated because of the cost of water or lack of statutory regulations.

SELECTED EXAMPLES FOR MEASURES TO REDUCE WATER CONSUMPTION

  • Dyeing of PES fibres in supercritical CO2
  • Dyeing of synthetic fibres during the spinning process
  • Improved water flow in dyeing machines and equipment
  • Chemical additives that reduce water consumption during dyeing and rinsing
  • Water treatment after the finishing process for re-use in rinsing processes
  • Reduce the number of rinsings by using dyes that have high absorptivity

 

Goal 7: Energy is central to nearly every major challenge and opportunity

Main drivers on energy are the source of energy (fossil based or regenerative) and the quantity of energy used in all of the value chain processes, from raw material production to transportation; from maintenance and care of the final product to the opportunities at end of use. Circular thinking is crucial to finding sustainable solutions for energy consumption in our industry.

 

Goal 14: Careful management of this essential global resource is a key to a sustainable future

The contamination of water and soil with micro plastics is a problem that has been the subject of intense discussion for several years. Clothing textiles are often cited as a source of this pollution. Not only the fibre components of synthetic materials can be found in the oceans, but also the smallest particles of natural fibres are found in the deepest ocean layers, which do not decompose under the prevailing conditions there. To avoid further contamination in the future, more frequent use of yarns and processes that reduce the separation of fiber components during production and maintenance is required.


Best Practice: How to better protect our waters and avoid the introduction of micro plastics

  • Industrial waste water cleanup
  • No use of pesticides, fertilizers, and other sprays for cotton production
  • Reduced use of detergents and fewer washings during the use phase (natural fibres like wool or treated textiles with anti-bacterial finishes, do not need frequent washing)
  • No gentle cycle washing (adds more fibres to the wash water)
  • Use of fibre catchers in the household such as the „Guppy Bag” washing bag or the „Cora Ball”

 

Goal 15: Sustainable forest management, combat desertification, halt and reverse land degradation, halt biodiversity loss

The textile industry can contribute a great deal to this goal. Since all natural fibres have a direct influence on land use, i.e. wool, cotton, silk and, in some cases, synthetic fibres made from renewable raw materials.


Best Practice: How to protect the earth’s land surfaces

  • The production of man-made cellulosic offers the possibility of using wood from sustainable forestry or cellulosic waste materials from other sources
  • Raw materials for bio-synthetics from small-scale agriculture are preferable to those from monocultures
  • The amount of land used and the type of land management play a role for all soil-based materials (wool, down, cotton, starch-containing and oil-containing plants for the production of bio-synthetics, etc.)
  • The primary objective must be to avoid monocultures that deplete the soil, and cultivation should not endanger the area’s suitability for food production
  • Certificates like FSC, PEFC, GOTS, Buon Sucro, etc. are useful for gaining an orientation
  • In the case of materials made from animal sources, it is also interesting to consider the influence of animal husbandry on the land area used. For example, grazing can also have a positive influence on the biodiversity of the land, because plants are grazed irregularly and microclimates can develop

Standards and tools are essential for ecologically sustainable textile production

Selecting the Materials

Making the design

Design for durability of the final product and for circularity:

  • Design for reparability
  • Design for easy maintenance and care during use phase (i.e. reduced need for washing)
  • Include end of use possibilities into the product design (e.g. monocomponents)
  • Design apparel and products which consumers really need and which they will use for a long time („favorite item”)
  • Timeless design of garments is a good prerequisite for a long wearing time, which is a great lever for a good life cycle assessment (LCA)

How the textile industry can meet its social challenges

More than 15% of the world‘s employees are connected directly to the textile and apparel industry. Social
issues like the elimination of poverty, achieving gender equality (80% of the employees in the global textile and garment industry are female), and the urgent importance of fair and equitable pay for workers are more relevant than ever. 1

As the numbers show, the textile and apparel industry has a particularly high potential for remedying grievances in production facilities. The abuses are many and varied:

  • Price wars in the industry repeatedly lead to cost cutting in the social areas, where legally permitted or where those involved have no opportunity to take action against grievances
  • Wages that sometimes are not high enough to cover basic living expenses are still quite prevalent in many
    regions, even if they are sometimes in violation of internationally recognized human rights
  • The work of women, in particular, is little appreciated and child labor is still to be found in some countries of the world
  • In addition to the obvious social abuses, ecological grievances also have an adverse effect on the health of all living things on the planet
  • Nearly all ecological issues have social consequences

The UN social development goals are equally for the prtotection of employees in manufacturing operations

GOAL 1: No Poverty

Economic growth must be inclusive and provide sustainable jobs while promoting equality.

GOAL 2: Zero Hunger

The food and agriculture sector is central to the elimination of hunger and poverty and can offer key solutions for development.

GOAL 3: Good Health and Wellbeing

Promoting good health and the general welfare for all ages is essential to sustainable development.

GOAL 4: Quality Education

Quality education is the foundation for improving people’s lives and achieving the sustainable development goals.

GOAL 5: Gender Equality

Gender equality is not only a fundamental human right, but a necessary foundation for a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable world.

GOAL 10: Reduced Inequalities

To reduce inequalities, policies should be universal in principle, paying attention to the needs of disadvantaged and marginalized populations.


SD Goals 1 to 5 as well as Goal 10 have been integrated in the ILO‘s core labor standards, which are signed by a large number of participants in the textile value chain. Furthermore, an increasing number of brands are using third parties to audit their production facilities. The most important of these are listed below.
Official labels, seals, and certifications are some of the ways to facilitate communication with consumers about what measures have been implemented. However, the audit process is expensive and some of the smaller players in the industry may find it difficult to bear. The supply chains of these firms, in particular, are clearer and they can maintain a direct and open partnership with their suppliers.


When chosing a production operation, these things should be obvious

  • Use manufacturing countries with low risk of social challenges
  • Integrate a code of conduct with all partners in the value chain
  • Keep direct and open communication with partners along the value chain
  • Understand price and production systems within the value chain
  • Know your value chain with ecological, social, and animal welfare issues

 

These standards and tools provide guidance to a socially responsible textile production


Sustainability is a team sport

A JOINT EFFORT IS CRITICAL!

GOAL 12: RESPONSIBLE CONSUMPTION AND PRODUCTION

Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns.

GOAL 13: CLIMATE ACTION

Climate change is a global challenge that affects everyone, everywhere.

GOAL 17: PARTNERSHIPS

Revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development.

Partnerships can lead to better and more sustainable results, particularly, when it comes to climate protection through the reduction of CO2 emissions and the quantities of apparel produced and consumed. Partnership is also the objective of the SDG 17. Every player involved in the value chain must work together to minimize transport routes within the value chain and produce high quality „Slow Fashion“ instead of massive quantities of „Fast Fashion.“ Brands, converters, ingredient brands, and consumers have it within their power to choose responsible and sustainable joint action.


How brands and retailers can act in partnership with the spirit of sustainabilty

  • Collaborate with partners in your business and in your value chains
  • Involve all relevant stakeholders and learn about their needs to gain the potential in contributing to the goals
  • Communicate to consumers on their possibilities during maintenance, care on the product and at the end of use of the prodcut to foster circualrity
  • Train consumers, retailers and media on all relevant aspects in how they can contribute
  • Keep rental, leasing, resupply, repair options, etc. in mind when looking for future business models
  • Partner up with peers in the industry to support logistic systems which are necessary to bring
    circular systems into life (e.g. collection of specialized products, forwarding to appropriate recycling
    facilities)
  • Integrate the contribution to the SDG into the financial rewards for employees, suppliers,
    business partners
  • Create a measurable baseline of data as base for all business decision
  • Collaborative commitment and investment in sustainable practices through value chains
  • Train your own stuff and consumers on all relevant aspects in how they can contribute
  • Reuse materials like product packaging
  • Minimize plastic and paper bags for consumers

 

How consumers can act in partnership with the spirit of sustainabilty

  • Consider products from good quality and timeless design, which really make you happy („favorites“)
  • Ask brands and retailers and inform yourself on the ecological, social and animal welfare topics of the product
  • Take the bike, walk or use public transport for shopping
  • Consider the real need for a certain product prior purchase
  • Ask your retailer or the brand on opportunities for the end of life of your product as possible technologies might have been evolved since the purchase of the product
  • Use the opportunities on alternative business models like rental, second hand, sharing, swapping with friends, repair, etc.
  • Bring your own packaging or transportation bag