Interview with James Carnahan

James Carnahan
James Carnahan
Sustainability Manager, Colour & Specialty Chemicals

Cost, specifically profit margins, a significant barrier to sustainability
The textile supply chain is coming under increasing pressure to ramp up its drive for sustainability. A new industry white paper: 'Quantifying The Impact of Textiles Innovation: How A Collaborative Approach Could Help Lighten The Textile Industry's Environmental Load' offers a variety of perspectives on how textiles professionals can rise to the challenge of positive change.

In the paper, compiled by Catexel - an R&D company that has developed lower temperature bleaching technologies in the treatment of textiles - James Carnahan offers the chemist's view on finding operationally viable, environmentally responsible manufacturing methods. Carnahan is the Global Sustainability Manager at colour and specialty chemicals company, Archroma.

What do you see as the key challenges facing the textile industry today?

A lack of transparency across the supply chain makes it harder to track the sustainable credentials of textiles from fibre to fashion.

From an environmental perspective, the pressure to deliver increasingly softer, more durable fabrics resulted in the extensive use of chemicals, such as PFC stain repellents, to deliver these technical benefits with a lack of consideration of the associated risk. While many brands are now taking a stance against the use of hazardous chemicals, there are still some that are yet to adopt cleaner alternatives.

Recent press has drawn attention to the polluting impact of synthetic fibres on our oceans. Washing synthetics has been shown to release microfibres which end up polluting waterways and ultimately, our food chain. The apparel industry has been accused of being slow to respond to the microfibre problem and unless we work together to find a way to reduce fibre loss, the issue will only intensify.

As clean water becomes an increasingly scarce resource, textiles' reliance on water is under the spotlight. Heavy energy use, especially from fossil fuels, and the resulting greenhouse gas emissions, represents another area where the industry needs to get smarter when it comes to powering its operations.

Add regulatory pressures and specific brand certifications into the mix, the textile industry is going to have to embrace new ways of working or it will fail to benefit from the opportunities a more sustainable approach offers.

What are the barriers to sustainability in the industry, as it stands?

Cost, or more specifically profit margins, represent a significant barrier. There is a common preconception that moving towards more sustainable solutions automatically results in increased costs and reduced profitability. Because consumers are demanding cheap items of clothing, the industry is reluctant to adopt new solutions that could involve additional costs, as they cannot be passed onto the consumer.

Variations in regulations across the global supply chain makes it difficult to ensure compliance throughout the lifecycle of textiles and miscommunication of brand specifications from downstream stakeholders compounds the issue even further.

The textiles industry is ripe for disruption but a fear of rising costs or changes in established processes means there is a strong resistance to change. But rather than shying away from innovation altogether, the industry can start by making small, high-impact improvements.

We also need to ensure we're investing in the skills of the next generation as there's already been a perceived drop in levels of expertise, and in a constantly evolving world we need to upskill to future-proof textiles for the future.

What have been some of the key developments towards a sustainable future for textiles?

There is a greater level of awareness around sustainability issues across the supply chain and brands are having to respond to consumer demand for more sustainable textiles. There's also growing evidence of stakeholders starting to collaborate more closely to establish and implement industry wide improvements.

In the past, the focus was on the issue of hazardous chemical content in textiles and the mechanism to control; by issuing restricted substance lists (RSL's) which detailed the concentration limits of individual hazardous chemicals that a textile article could contain. In recent years the control mechanism has moved to examining and specifying the hazardous chemical content within the actual commercial chemical and dye formulations, which are delivered to a textile mill. In this way we have seen a shift to problem prevention rather than problem management. However, it must be noted that it is necessary to work towards a convergence of a universal industry standard, rather than introduce new, brand-specific standards. We need to avoid burdening the industry with unnecessary additional costs in order to confirm compliance to multiple standards.

Public and environmental health is a universal requirement and should not be used as a market differentiator in relation to the consumer, which was the case to some extent, when RSL's were first implemented in the industry.

How does your organisation contribute to a cleaner, greener textile industry?

In 2012, Archroma introduced One Way, a proprietary methodology to help mills and brand owners to develop innovative textile solutions that are both ecologically and economically sustainable. Our ultimate aim is to provide a fast, measurable and reliable approach to the selection of chemical product and process solutions to help customers meet their sustainability targets in a fast and reliable manner.

We have invested in a Quality Management system and in-house testing facilities to ensure clean and efficient production. We work closely with downstream partners in an advisory capacity to support sustainability improvements. Our commitment to innovation has seen us deliver new technologies to enable our customers to achieve their sustainability goals from replacement of hazardous chemicals, reduction in the use of energy and water and productivity improvements.

Where do you see the role of innovation in achieving sustainability goals and where do you think this innovation will come from?

Innovation will manifest itself in a number of ways to transform the textiles industry. The introduction of new chemistries will allow the replacement of hazardous chemicals with more benign alternatives and new-generation processing technologies will deliver further benefits. The introduction of further global regulations concerning textile production and incentivising of sustainability measures will help to further accelerate the implementation of these new chemistries and technologies.

The combined effect of these developments will lead to a move away from the 'take-make-dispose' model towards a Circular Economy for textiles.
Published on: 23/10/2017

DISCLAIMER: All views and opinions expressed in this column are solely of the interviewee, and they do not reflect in any way the opinion of Fibre2Fashion.com.

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