Collaboration among the value chain can bring huge benefits to the table and will be a sustainable solution for the industry, writes Ajay Sardana.
The United Nation's 1987 Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development: Our Common Future noted that sustainable development would have to meet the needs of the present without compromising the well-being of future generations. Scientists have discovered that mankind's actions are now pushing the planet's systems into unsafe territory. It will be difficult to continue to grow our economies without limit because at some point the planet will not be able to continue to support our activities.
Many people say that time has already passed and we are using resources and degrading the nature to a point that the planet's natural systems may not be able to recover. Therefore, for us contributing to a sustainable future becomes the goal for business because business cannot thrive on a planet that fails.
Sustainability in textiles industry
The textiles industry has a clear opportunity to manage growth and increase profits, and also be a contributor in creating value for society. However, to continue on this path they need to address their environmental and social footprints.
Sustainability in textile industry consists of four main factors: raw material procurement/sourcing, production of textiles (fibre, yarn, fabric, garment), added chemistry (especially textile dyeing and finishing) and end-of-life or disposal of textile articles along with community development and health & safety for all working in this domain.
Raw material sourcing: It addresses the land and water used to grow natural fibres like cotton and wool, regenerated cellulosic fibres or the impacts of extracting fossil fuels for synthetic fibres such as polyester or nylon. Sustainable sourcing is already a major issue in the textiles value chain. With rising awareness, many raw materials are now available which are sustainable e.g. cotton produced by BCI (Better Cotton Initiative) way, organic cotton, cellulosic fibres such as viscose, modal, etc.
Recycled fibres are a new fad, but they help a lot in conserving planet especially with the rising marine pollution, once we find a way to make it commercially viable.
Production process concerns include the water and energy used for manufacturing, the impact of waste arising due to production and a company's social responsibility towards the communities that surround its production facilities. Key here is the optimal use of resources i.e. responsible manufacturing conserving water and energy as textile manufacturing is a water and energy intensive process. Use of renewable energy is gaining importance day by day and can be a game-changer in the long term due to focus of the government to reduce emission intensity by about 35 per cent by 2030 from the 2005 level as laid out in India's INDC (Intended Nationally Determined Contributions). Companies can start contributing to the community they operate by initiating projects related to renewable energy, WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) for the well-being and development of the society. It will also help to use fibres that use lower water and energy, such as dope-dyed viscose or other fibres. Dope-dyed fibres help in reduction of water and energy usage in the downstream process and reduce emissions significantly.
Added chemistries including dyes, finishes and coatings, may impact the health of textiles workers as well as consumers of the final product. Nowadays, the impact of chemistry is widely seen as a key differentiator in the industry. Dyeing & finishing contributes the most to pollution in textiles value chain in terms of per unit of production. Addressing issues in dyeing would contribute a lot to protect environment and greening supply chains. Using the Restricted Substance List (RSL) is one way to eliminate hazardous chemicals from the supply chain. So, chemical management is to be looked upon as an important step in keeping the environment clean.
End-of-Life: Finally, the end-of-life scenario or disposal of a textile article including its biodegradability and recyclability to turn it into new raw material, strongly affect its sustainability. Many new initiatives are taking place in this respect to bring textiles into circular economy concept so as to reduce waste and give a new life to textiles. Here, a company can explore innovative ways to avoid sending the discarded textile to landfills, etc. Choosing to work with biodegradable fibres such as cotton, viscose, modal, lyocell is another solution available to the textiles industry.
Though the above four steps are easier said than done, integrating them into the industry is one of the toughest tasks. So, industry needs to work on integrating the value chain for the larger benefit of society. Collaboration among the value chain can bring huge benefits to the table and will be a sustainable solution for the industry.
Collaboration is the key
Currently, there are many non-profit groups who are working to raise the standard of the industry and one such group is Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC). The SAC's vision is of an apparel and textiles industry that produces no unnecessary environmental harm and has a positive impact on the people and communities associated with its activities.
SAC is driving this through the Higg Index. This self-assessment tool empowers brands, retailers and facilities of all sizes, at every stage in their sustainability journey, to measure their environmental and social and labour impacts and identify areas for improvement. The Higg Index delivers a holistic overview of the sustainability performance of a product or company a big-picture perspective that is essential for progress to be made. The other non-profit is Textile Exchange. It inspires and equips people to accelerate sustainable practices in the textiles value chain.
In chemical management and wastewater management, the ZDHC (Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals) Foundation oversees implementation of the ZDHC Programme. Their mission is to advance towards zero discharge of hazardous chemicals in the textile, leather and footwear value chain to improve the environment and people's well-being by widespread implementation of sustainable chemistry and best practices in the industry to protect consumers, workers and the environment.
Another way to know ones impact on environment is by conducting a life cycle assessment (LCA) of the product. This helps in understanding the environment impacts during the various phases of a product life cycle. This in turn may assist companies in finding gaps in the process and closing those gaps can lead to certain advantages like adopting best practices. Certifications (like ISO 14001, OekoTex 100) and Ecolabels (like EU Ecoflower, USDA Biobased Product) are other areas to consider to take ones organisation to a different level.
Sustainability is not only about looking into environmental aspects but also to developing a clean supply chain, societal needs and creating a safe and healthy ecosystem. To sum up, sustainability has to be integrated in business strategy and has to become a way of life if we want our businesses to survive and thrive in the years to come.
About the author
Ajay Sardana is Chief Sustainability Officer (Pulp & Fibre Business) at Grasim Industries. Ltd, Aditya Birla Group.