2016: The year the textiles sector gets serious on sustainability?

Fabien Gaulard, Technical Manager, Catexel

The tide may be turning when it comes to sustainability matters in the global textiles market. Many different initiatives have been kick-started over the years – some of which are highly ambitious (take the ZDHC “zero discharge” policy as a case-in-point). The fact is that the sector is having to sit up and take notice because the consumer is demanding it.

Only at the beginning of July, the Foreign Trade Association (FTA) signed the statement of Support for the Dutch Garment and Textiles Agreement – a sure sign that a sector, that has traditionally been slower on the uptake regarding environmental reform (mainly for reasons owing to difficult market conditions exaggerated by low margins and a highly fragmented set-up) is starting to get serious on sustainability.

The fact that The Netherlands is taking the lead as the first country to initiate collaboration across the supply chain is pertinent to Catexel as a pioneer of green chemistries for the textiles sector, with most of our research and development being done out of Leiden. With an emphasis on buying price over cost-in-use and less pressure from environmental policy makers in the parts of the world where textiles manufacture is most prevalent, technologies sold-in on sustainability grounds tend to get overlooked. Even where there is strong evidence to support an environmental claim, experience tells us this is a secondary message to take market.

The report from the organisation for Economic Co-operation & Development (OECD) addressed this issue head-on at the start of the year. Published in March 2016, it advised textile manufacturers to support government efforts to tighten environmental rules, saying such action was unlikely to cause loss of business. In other words, the financial think tank sought to counteract claims that tighter environmental rules necessarily mean increased costs.

Its argument rested with the gains in orders that could be achieved through selling sustainable textiles and especially by investing in ongoing research and development. The reality is that big name retailers have to act on sustainability and that encompasses their entire supply chains. European standards are seen as being the most scrupulous and that is what manufacturing partners – irrespective of location – need to aspire to if they want to retain business with the most successful fashion houses.

Some of the world’s leading economists worked on the OECD research piece titled “Do Environmental Policies Affect Global Value Chains?” and identified the textiles sector as being a mid-level polluter. The volume of water used in the industrial processing of textiles and the chemicals that can be found in wastewater steams are an obvious concern. The World Bank cites that 20% of global industrial water pollution is caused by textile dyeing and treatment. Certainly many textiles businesses and the auxiliary houses supplying them are already making in-roads on improving processes by seeking technologies that support cleaner and safer but also faster ways of working. For, to echo the OECD’s point: going greener can also mean going leaner. Strides towards a more sustainable model are commercially viable and can actually prove very commercially attractive.

Working alongside our “super user” community of like-minded customers that are committed to moving forwards with their environmental efforts we have built up a body of evidence that shows how textiles businesses can benefit from technologies that can facilitate significant energy and water savings and, potentially, help manage wastewater streams more responsibly too. Our case study is a good introduction to the impact oxidation catalysis can have on operations. Data obtained from textile auxiliaries and their customers in mills all over the world has delivered headlining statistics such as up to 15% unit cost savings per tonne of cotton bleached (taking into account energy, chemical load and increased cotton yield) and as much as 15% in heating cost savings and 10% in electricity savings due to lower temperature bleaching activity. Not to mention increased asset utilisation and higher output due to shorter bleaching, heating, cooling and rinse cycles.

Suffice to say, we understand the challenges textiles businesses face in moving forwards on a more sustainable path but with initiatives like the trade agreement being driven by the Dutch contingent we’re hopeful that the sector will feel supported in what is a sustainable vision – both from a commercial and corporate social responsibility standpoint.

As featured in issue 6 of International Dyer magazine, and on the WTiN website.


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