Expanding on its commitment to cultivating a responsible supply chain within the apparel industry, Lenzing announced during Climate Week NYC that in September it launched carbon-zero Tencel fibers. Climate Week NYC, which was held Sept. 21–27, was the perfect opportunity for the Austria-headquartered company to announce the latest advancement in its long line of renewable, wood-based fibers, which will see the calculation and offset of emissions from the processing of this product, according to the guidelines of The CarbonNeutral Protocol.
Following the announcement, Florian Heubrandner, vice president of global business management of textiles for Lenzing, shared how the year-and-a-half-long path to carbon-zero Tencel began.
“It all starts with the raw material, dissolved wood pulp, which we source from a low-carbon-footprint location,” he said. “Next, we only produce Tencel Carbon Zero in our Austrian production sites where we have the lowest carbon footprint in our entire group. We’ve made additional investments in energy efficiency and green energy to avoid carbon emissions wherever we can.”
While Heubrandner explains that the process begins with Lenzing’s wood-pulp sources, he reveals that the company cannot reach carbon zero alone. Due to the potential for environmental impacts along the supply chain from individual partners, Lenzing relies on partnerships with its suppliers and ecologically focused solutions providers.
“We’ve collaborated successfully with suppliers to make sure they reduce the carbon footprint of their products. All these measures result in a carbon footprint that is 65 percent to 80 percent lower than generic lyocell or modal fibers,” he said. “The [small] carbon footprint that is still left we compensate for with offsetting credits from Natural Capital Partners. There is a roadmap in place to make sure we become better every year and reduce the offsetting part step by step. Natural Capital Partners verifies our progress in that respect.”
On Sept. 22, the same day that Lenzing made its announcement, Heubrandner participated in a webinar called “Action Toward Climate Change.” The panel included an introduction by Annemarie Hou, executive director of the United Nations Office for Partnerships, and moderation by Kerry Bannigan, executive producer of the SDG Media Zone and founder of the Conscious Fashion Campaign. Heubrandner was joined by fellow panelists Lewis Perkins, executive director of the Apparel Impact Institute, and Jad Finck, vice president of innovation and sustainability at the San Francisco–headquartered Allbirds, which is a Lenzing partner.
“We try to use the lowest carbon materials possible and the lowest carbon processes possible,” Fink explained during the webinar. “That is a great area where we can work with an important partner of ours, Lenzing, to use a lot of Tencel Lyocell. It’s the fundamental product for our entire tree platform—a very low-carbon product, amazing environmental footprint. That is why we’re excited today to be talking about their new initiatives.”
The benefit of Lenzing’s partnerships with companies such as Allbirds who share its ideals and sustainable vision is also beneficial for the fiber producer in its quest to become carbon neutral. Working with like-minded brands affords greater visibility to Lenzing’s mission in addition to creating a responsible-apparel community.
“We need partners like Allbirds to help share the ‘burden’ that comes with these targets and commitments. Becoming carbon neutral involves heavy financial investments and time from our people,” Heubrandner said while noting the importance of his colleagues across different Lenzing departments. “By paying a [little] bit more for our most sustainable products, our partners help advance the industry. Of course, we know that cost competitiveness is particularly important these days, and that’s why we make sure that Tencel Carbon Zero is available at very reasonable prices.”
While Lenzing has long emphasized its commitment to sustainable fiber sourcing over the course of its 80 years in business, consumer awareness is continuing to shift toward examining the impact of the products they buy, including apparel. During its “Global Consumer Perception Survey on Sustainable Raw Materials in Fashion and Home Textiles” survey, which was conducted in early 2020, Lenzing discovered that respondents are engaging actively in furthering their education regarding a product’s sustainability prior to purchase, in addition to placing the most trust in brands whose ingredient lists and origins are transparent. This change toward a more-conscientious consumer has accelerated over the course of the year.
“What we are learning, particularly in the last six months, is that we see a real shift within the apparel-and-footwear industry as individuals are questioning their relationship to materials and products and questioning their values as it relates to the planet as a whole and also consumption and production,” Perkins said.
With a goal to reduce its specific greenhouse-gas emissions by 50 percent by 2030, Lenzing believes its introduction of a carbon-zero product will facilitate its arrival at this goal. While Lenzing notes that it is the first wood-based fiber manufacturer in the industry with approved Science Based Targets, Heubrandner sees this latest product as reaching beyond those guidelines.
“I think it will help us because Tencel Carbon Zero goes beyond the Science Based Targets,” he said. “Also, it makes our sustainability leadership and commitment even more prominent and will motivate us to offer more and more products in a carbon neutral way and turn our sites more sustainable faster.”
Adhering to an approach rooted in “progress, not perfection,” Heubrandner sees hope as brands that are committing to United Nations Sustainable Development Goals continue to receive increasing acknowledgment for their efforts. As a personal observation, he often recognizes these brands as sources for “cool” approaches to design and branding, sentiments he feels are shared by many consumers.
“I think the current crisis has shown us that we can all make a contribution. Every ton of CO2 that gets avoided counts,” Heubrandner said. “Also, consumers start paying more attention to these initiatives as they understand the environmental impact that the fashion industry has on our planet.”