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Certification can't solve problems, shift in industry mindset essential
Bluesign Technologies AG was founded in Switzerland in 2000. Bluesign provides a unique combination of expertise in key segments of the textile and apparel industry, such as chemistry, textile technology, environmental technology, supply chain management and brand corporate social responsibility (CSR). CEO Jill Dumain talks at length about certification beyond environment health and safety (EHS), the growing potential in India and offers a sneak peek into Bluesign's fifth conference in Milan in an interview with Fibre2Fashion.
Tell us about your latest collaboration with the Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals Foundation (ZDHC), a group of apparel and footwear brands and retailers working together to lead the industry towards zero discharge of hazardous chemicals. What common goals do you plan to achieve through this?
We share the common goal with ZDHC of cleaning up the chemical and textile industry on a global scale. There are some very good textile companies working in our industry but many that need to build their knowledge and capacity. Our goal for the industry is to create the opportunity to meet these needs and determine the best requirements for chemical management that will put the industry on a path to the highest level of protection for the people in the supply chain as well as the environment. Bluesign is proud to be the first and the only level 3 certifier in the ZDHC Gateway with an existing holistic chemical management system that has been proven for the last 18 years.
How has the sustainability certification industry evolved? Has it moved beyond EHS?
The good news is there are many initiatives today and that points to a lot of interest and concern in the sector. But that also makes it challenging to understand the different services that are being offered by so many certifications. The industry has evolved to still include EHS but also a broader range of topics. Consumers are increasingly interested to know where and how their products are made and therefore, transparency in the supply chain is becoming more important. For transparency, a company needs traceability. The Bluesign system provides the most robust traceability in the industry with the ability to work from brand to textile manufacturers to chemical suppliers.
The system was built so that information can flow up and down the value chain in a manner that allows any of the Bluesign system partners to be transparent with its own information. The traceability of the system enables transparency. Also EHS shouldn't be minimised because so few certifications go for an onsite assessment the way Bluesign does. The best protection for the people in the supply chain and the environment is done by visiting all the manufacturing locations to ensure that they produce in a responsible manner. Chemical exposure can lead to chronic health issues as well as immediate ones. Therefore, it is critical for the protection of these people that proper practices are in place when they are working with chemicals.
Which segments within the textile industry is Bluesign gaining traction - brands, manufacturers, processing houses?
Bluesign has enjoyed growth in all sectors in the last few years. We have had numerous conversations with brands and retailers that are outside of our traditional sector of sports and outdoor and much more focused on fashion. The Bluesign system is perfect for this sector because we have proved we can operate in the most complex chemical and textile processes. These brands make the request to their textile manufacturers to use Bluesign approved chemistry from our chemical suppliers thus growing this foundation. We work to have all three sectors strong so that there is a broad range to choose from when sourcing new products. We are having our fifth Bluesign conference in October this year and will focus on helping everyone - both system partners and non-system partners - to build a network for sourcing and fulfilling customer requests.
How many brands and manufacturers are Bluesign certified?
We will surpass 600 system partners, including chemical suppliers, this year.
Where do Bluesign certified companies hail from? What is the size of the companies?
The partner base of Bluesign reflects the globalisation of the textile industry with all sectors of system partners represented in most areas in the world. The majority of the brands are in Europe and North America but Asia is now starting and we hope India will soon too! Textile manufacturers are clustered in Asia but they are also located in Europe and the Americas. The chemical suppliers are also diversified, coming from Europe, the Americas and Asia.
We are able to work with companies of different sizes from huge global enterprises to small and medium ones as well. The ability to work with the smaller ones that have fewer resources is an area that is important to us with brands, textile manufacturers and chemical suppliers.
What is the amount a company needs to invest to get certified? What is the return on investment? How much time does it take to change the process and get products verified?
As the Bluesign system is a holistic approach and based on site compliance and not just a product certification, the investments for companies depends on their current level of sustainable performance. The investment for the Bluesign services and consultancy is dependent on the size and complexity of a company, but it is usually the smaller part of shifting business practices to a more sustainable model.
The RoI for a company is a function of how much work the company needs to do to fulfill the Bluesign criteria. In addition to monetary savings, risk minimisation and image improvement are also parts of the RoI. With textile manufacturers and chemical suppliers, the time depends on the ability of the company, but it is typically at least a year-long process. For brands, we work on a long-term roadmap with them that usually becomes a part of their overall sustainable strategy.
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