Articles | In-Depth Analysis | Sustainability | Textile Articles


Published: September 1, 2020

Vast environmental impact

According to the UN Alliance for Sustainable Fashion, the textile and clothing (T&C) industry accounts for 10% of the world’s GHG’s and 20% of the industrial waste water pollution.Annually,48 million mt of clothes are disposed off, the bulk of which ends up in landfills.

”Fashion shouldn’t cost the earth”


Large economic footprint

The global fashion industry has a large economic footprint. It is the world’s third-largest manufacturing sector after the automobile and technology industries. Contributing US$ 2.4 tn to manufacturing value, if it were a country, the industry would be ranked 7th in the world by GDP. ICAC says, by 2025, 8.1 billion people will require clothing. As per WTO, T&C is ranked among the top 5 traded merchandise (5% share). Gherzi findings reveal that T&C sector is a large employer, especially in Asia. In India it is the second largest employer after agriculture.

Sustainability concerns

The coronavirus pandemic has been a wake-up call for the world. According to a Mckinsey consumer survey, two-thirds of consumers state that sustainability has become a more important priority to combat climate change following COVID-19.

The sustainability concerns in T&C can be typically clubbed under four major impact areas. The intensity varies depending on the stage of the textile or clothing product life cycle.

Energy consumption Production of MMF, yarn manufacturing, finishing processes, domestic washing and drying
Water and chemicals consumption Fibre growth, wet pre-treatment, dyeing, finishing and laundry
Solid waste End of Life product disposal, manufacturing
Direct CO2 emissions On-site and off-site fuel combustion, transportation

The following statistics, published by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, provide a glimpse into the environmental impact of the T&C industry

  • Every year the T&C industry uses 93 billion m³ of water — enough to meet the consumption needs of five million people.
Fast fashion isn’t free. Someone, somewhere is paying – LUCY SIEGLE
  • Around 20 % of wastewater worldwide is generated by fabric dyeing and treatment.
  • Of the total fibre input used for clothing, 87 % is incinerated or disposed off in a landfill.
  • The T&C industry is responsible for 10 % of annual global carbon emissions, more than all international flights and maritime shipping combined.

Sustainable fashion is not a trend but the future – ANTONIA BOHIKE

  • One ton of textiles generates 17 tons of CO2 equivalent vis-a-vis 3.5 tons for plastics and <1 ton for paper
  • Besides, consumers produce 120 million tons of CO2 equivalent during washing and drying of clothes
  • If demographic and lifestyle patterns continue as they are now, global consumption of apparel will rise from 62 million metric tons in 2019 to 102 million tons in 10 years.
  • Every year half a million ton of plastic microfibers are dumped into the ocean, the equivalent of 50 billion plastic bottles.
  • Chemicals equivalent to $ 21 billion/year are used to produce textiles.
  • Cotton occupies 2.5% of the world’s arable land but accounts for 16% of all pesticides and 7% of all herbicides used
  • In India 50% of all pesticides are used for cotton production

 “What if we started by slowing down and not consuming so much stuff, just because it’s there and cheap and available. It’s amazing how that process makes sense financially, it makes sense ethically, and it makes sense environmentally”


“Instant” fashion

The problem is exacerbated by the T&C industry’s operating model. The pace of design and production has accelerated with time. Collection launches are no longer seasonal; the replacement of clothing inventories has become much more frequent.

Many low-cost clothing stores offer new designs every week. The number of new garments made annually has doubled in the last 20 years. The rapid pace of apparel production has accelerated both consumption and redundancy. The average person today buys 60 % more clothing than in 2000, especially in Asia with rising per-capita fibre consumption. And not only do they buy more, they also discard more as a result. Clothing is massively under-utilized.

Re-inventing the industry

The large footprint of T&C industry makes it crucial for economic development. Enabling the industry to grow without being an enemy of the environment is the key. This is recognised and acknowledged by governments, policy makers, industry, brands, advocacy groups and the society at large.

Heightened awareness has motivated mid-sized and large companies to integrate sustainability policies into their core growth strategy. The T&C industry, like all industries, is slowly but surely gravitating towards a circular economy guided by 4 basic principles:

  1. Design out substances of concern and pollutants
  2. Encourage repair, reuse and recycle
  3. Conserve and regenerate resources and natural systems
Consume Less, Share Better – HERVE KEMPF

4.Rationalize production and consumption

Technology and research are playing a key role in making the industry more sustainable. Athletic shoes and attire are getting made out of materials extracted from the plastic dumped into the ocean. Fish skins and natural dyes are replacing chemicals, fruit skins are substituting furs, and artificial leathers are getting made out of plants. Some companies have a return policy so they can recycle the consumers’ garments after they have worn out. As per estimates made by the Textile Exchange, the rate of textile-to-textile or post and pre-consumer recycling of clothing is a meagre 1%. This shows a huge potential to grow. Fashion brands are reacting to consumer concerns and exerting pressure on the supply chain, as reflected in concrete commitments made by popular brands and retailers. Many textile and garment companies have pro-actively embarked on ‘circular’ initiatives.

While a lot still needs to be done, it is encouraging that many companies are becoming involved when a decade ago there was little talk of sustainable fashion. Today, regardless of whether you are a small, medium or largescale manufacturer, there is a need to revisit your business model and align it with the UN SDG’s. A wise step should be to collaborate with a sound knowledge partner to benchmark your KPI’s and prepare the roadmap towards a sustainable future.

Anup Goswami is a B.Tech (Textiles) GCTI, Kanpur with over 3 decades of experience in reputed textile mills in India. His core expertise lies in implementation of good manufacturing practices and training in textile dyeing & finishing mills. He is associated with Gherzi Textil Organisation, Switzerland for providing technical services to dyeing & finishing mills worldwide. Gherzi is an international industrial consulting organisation dedicated to the textile industry since 1929. It helps textile companies during their transtion to sustainable business models and engineering factories for the future.

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