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How companies can embrace circularity in their material sourcing strategies

In conjunction with the release of the Textile Exchange 2019 Material Change Index, GreenBiz has partnered with Textile Exchange to publish actionable insights for apparel and textile companies looking to source raw materials more sustainably. The entire series may be found here.

Traditional business models in the fashion industry are inherently extractive. They are focused on producing in greater volumes over time, in a way that uses more resources and creates more waste. 

In contrast, circular business models focus on retaining the value of existing materials through perpetual cycles. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation (EMF) defines a circular economy as one that designs out waste and pollution, keeps products and materials in use and regenerates natural systems. EMF argues that for the fashion industry to thrive, and not just survive, it needs to radically redesign its operating model and decouple financial success from natural resource consumption. A transition to a circular system has the potential to unlock an enormous economic opportunity for those brands willing to innovate and invest in new ways of doing business.

As an organization, Textile Exchange supports the apparel and textiles sector in switching to preferable materials that have a more positive impact on people and the environment compared to conventional. We find that leading companies that are committed to holistic improvement also have a circularity strategy in place. These strategies may address opportunities such as managing demand, designing products for disassembly or recyclability and providing services to extend a product’s life.

Incorporating recycled materials into product collections is a good start. Here, it is best practice to ensure that materials are traceable back to the source so there is a guarantee of the recycling process. Several “chain of custody” standards track recycled materials through the supply chain, including the Recycled Claim Standard (RCS), Global Recycled Standard (GRS) and SCS Recycled Content. 

The next step for companies is to not only increase the use of recycled materials but to make sure their products and fabrics are designed and produced to be “recyclable.” This involves rethinking blends between synthetic and natural fibers (which are difficult to separate); being mindful of how rivets, zippers and other accessories affect recyclability and watching the use of dyes and other wet processing chemicals to ensure materials can be recycled safely. If the industry is to become truly circular, materials must be able to have multiple life cycles.

How can companies level up their circular initiatives?

Every year, Textile Exchange publishes a Material Change Index that tracks the fashion industry’s progress toward more sustainable materials sourcing, as well as alignment with global efforts such as the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and the transition to a circular economy. There are some key activities that top performers in the circularity category have in common. These should serve as inspiration for any companies looking to push their circularity initiatives to the next level. Textile Exchange also will be sharing a more detailed analysis of findings later in 2020.

1. Explore new business models

Circularity touches every part of the value chain and requires a systems-thinking approach. The brands with the strongest circular strategies are developing transformative business models that will help them be competitive in the future. These might include rental models, alternative markets for unsold goods, extended product responsibility and second-life business models. These new models likely will disrupt the way companies make money and so require buy-in and excitement at every level of the business.

Material change in action: Organic linens company Coyuchi launched its takeback and renewal program “Coyuchi for Life” in 2016. This program makes organic textiles more affordable, while taking back used products and creating a second life cycle for them.

Customers lease Coyuchi products for as low as $5 per month and when they are done with the subscription term, they have the option to return the used items. Returned items are sorted and cleaned, and then sold as “renewed” products under the brand 2ndHome.

The model is a natural extension of the brand’s ethos of building products that last, and about 80 percent of returned product has been fit for resale. The brand has found that customers are excited about the program.

“We were very pleased to see customer adoption almost immediately,” said Coyuchi CEO Eileen Mockus. “The retention rate is higher than typical subscriptions and a majority of Coyuchi For Life customers would recommend it to others. It is exciting when customers come into our Point Reyes store asking for 2ndHome product as it keeps us motivated to renew more product.”

2. Invest in innovation

As companies increase their uptake of recycled inputs and explore circular models, there is an urgent need to invest in new technologies that can close the loop efficiently and cost-effectively. In a circular model, there is no waste: All materials are viewed as a resource. A new circular textiles system will require solutions that enable us to recycle textiles back into textiles without degrading quality. Brands leading the charge in this area are investing in research and development and engaging in pre-collaborative initiatives such as Fashion for Good.

Material change in action: In 2015, German retailer Tchibo introduced a Closed Loop strategy that embraced three key aspects: 

  1. Make: the use of recycled or responsibly sourced renewable materials;
  2. Use: facilitating a long lifetime of our products; and
  3. Recycle: ensure take-back and recycling

Based on these priorities, the company first initiated pilots that were relatively easy to implement within its existing supply chains and sales channels, such as increasing use of recycled plastics and communicating care, repair, upcycling and recycling options to consumers. In time, Tchibo extended these pilots to more innovative but also more complex initiatives, such as a partnership with FairWertung to take back used textiles and a rental model for children’s clothes called Tchibo Share.

Pursuing these ideas required partnership, along with a fair amount of humility and willingness to learn.

“The topic is quite complex and we built up expertise while proceeding with the projects,” said Nanda Bergstein, director of corporate responsibility at Tchibo. “We did not have all the answers at the beginning. But as we progressed, new opportunities and potential partnerships arose from which we could learn and grow even further. To me, this is one of the best side effects of working in sustainability.”

3. Push the industry forward

Textile Exchange is an affiliate partner of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s Make Fashion Circular initiative, which brings together leaders from across the fashion industry, including brands, cities, philanthropists, NGOs and innovators.

The initiative’s ambition is to work towards a “new textile economy” where clothes are made from safe and renewable materials, new business models increase their use and old clothes are turned into new. Leading companies use industry groups such as Make Fashion Circular to guide their circular sustainability strategies and identify opportunities to collaborate with other changemakers to drive the entire industry’s progress forward. They also share their learnings with others, treating the results of any internal innovation as an opportunity to lead industry transformation, not just a competitive advantage.

Material change in action: For years, Nike has been developing a pipeline of closed-loop and circular products designed with more sustainable materials. Inspired by the Global Fashion Agenda, the sports brand created an open-source framework for circular design with the goal of bringing as many designers into circular thinking as possible. Circularity: Guiding the Future of Designincludes guidance on product design innovation, best practices for re-imagining waste as a source of value and innovative ways to reclaim materials throughout the manufacturing process and at the end of a product’s lifecycle.

Nike used case studies in its guide to demonstrate how the principles in it can be adopted by brands of all sizes. It also partnered with students at the design school, Central Saint Martins, to make sure the guide resonated with the design leaders of tomorrow.

“Tackling this global challenge requires urgent action from everyone — big and small companies, governments, organizations and consumers,” said Nike Chief Sustainability Officer Noel Kinder. “Advancing a more sustainable future requires that everyone adopt principles of circularity and with this guide, we are showing designers how they can make better choices today.”

Source: GreenBiz.com
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How companies can align their materials strategy to the SDGs

In conjunction with the release of the Textile Exchange 2019 Material Change Index, GreenBiz has partnered with Textile Exchange to publish actionable insights for apparel and textile companies looking to source raw materials more sustainably. The entire series may be found here.

The way we produce, (re)use and dispose of or recycle our materials has an impact on nearly every one of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a collection of 17 global 2030 goals introduced by the United Nations in 2015. Also known as the Global Goals, the SDGs were designed to be universal (for both developed and developing countries), holistic (people-centered and planet-sensitive) and measurable. They include 169 targets and aim to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all.

For the textile industry, “SDG 12: Responsible Consumption and Production” is a gateway to many of the other SDGs. More sustainable cultivation of cotton, wool, wood and other natural raw materials aligns with the “Zero Hunger” and “Life on Land” goals. Converting to renewable energy and deploying cleaner technologies in the fiber processing stages have a positive effect on the “Clean Water and Sanitation,” “Industries, Innovation and Infrastructure” and “Climate Action” goals. And designing out waste, keeping materials in use longer and regenerating farmland plays an important role in reducing carbon emissions, a major target of the “Climate Action” goal. The textile industry has a powerful opportunity to shift the needle in both producer and consumer contexts.

The Global Goals have been widely adopted by governments, NGOs and businesses. In some cases, companies have a stronger lever to pull than governments do. By aligning their business and sustainability strategies to the Global Goals — or more radically, reshaping their business models — companies are able to position themselves as global leaders, rather than merely business leaders, and reframe their achievements as wins for the world. Not only does business hold the key to long-term SDG success but the SDGs will help shape business transformation. 

 

 

How can companies level up their Global Goals alignment?

Every year, Textile Exchange publishes a Material Change Index that tracks the fashion industry’s progress toward more sustainable materials sourcing, as well as alignment with global efforts such as the SDGs and the transition to a circular economy. There are some key activities that top performers in the SDGs category have in common. These should serve as inspiration for companies that are looking to push their alignment to the next level. Textile Exchange also will be sharing a more detailed analysis of findings later in 2020.

1. Embed into business 

To ensure long-term benefits for all, companies should integrate the SDGs into business models and strategies. To do this successfully requires getting key stakeholders (including employees, suppliers and investors) on board and on the same page. Through materiality assessment or plain, old-fashioned conversations, the top performers make sure to factor perspectives from across the business into the development of their strategies for positive SDG action.

Material change in action: Gap Inc. aligned its sustainability framework with the U.N.’s Sustainable Development agenda soon after it was released. The company first identified the issues most material to its business and reviewed how these aligned with the SDGs, finding that its efforts align most closely with the goals on quality education, gender equality, clean water and sanitation, decent work and economic growth, responsible consumption and production and climate action.

Gap Inc. formally incorporated these six SDGs into its sustainability strategy in 2016. By 2018, all of its brands (including Gap, Banana Republic, Old Navy and Athleta) had established executive sustainability steering committees, defined their own priorities and led sustainability strategy workshops with cross-functional teams.

“The best advice we could give is to work closely with partners across the company to understand how their work is affected by the Sustainable Development Goals and lay a foundation for working together,” said Diana Rosenberg, product sustainability manager at Gap Inc. “Then, it is critical to set jointly-held company goals and develop internal metrics that we can use to promote progress and hold ourselves accountable.”

2. Leveraging spheres of influence

While each SDG is important, it is likely that some SDGs will resonate more strongly with a company’s business competencies and priorities. Leading companies double-down on their priority SDGs and partner with other organizations to deliver on them.

Diversity brings different perspectives to the table, and leading brands see the advantage of partnering within their own supply chain, particularly when tackling complex sustainability challenges in sourcing regions They also keep in mind that the 17 goals are interconnected, and a holistic approach is important to ensure that progress towards certain SDGs has a positive, not detrimental, effect on the others.

3. Partner for change

The SDGs are shared goals, so forming collaborations within and between sectors and industries is essential if we are to achieve them. Engaging others with your efforts will raise visibility for the Global Goals and inspire others to take action against them. Companies leading the charge not only partner with others, but also initiate the kinds of working groups, coalitions and platforms that inspire collective engagement and can scale impact.

Material change in action: Sports brand PUMA began efforts to combat the effects of climate change over a decade ago. When it was approached by U.N. Climate to engage in an initiative for the fashion industry, it naturally chose to get involved. PUMA since has worked with multiple stakeholders to develop the Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action, a framework that helps brands jointly address the climate challenge by preparing and executing their sustainability strategies in line with other players.

“Industry collaborations are catalysts for systemic change,” said Stefan Seidel, head of corporate sustainability at PUMA. “When we talk about sustainability, brands often have similar goals but to a certain extent, limited resources and limited reach in shared supply chains. Sharing commitments and resources, brands have more chances to make a positive impact. We are only a small company compared to the size of the overall industry, that is why we know how important it is to work together on sustainability.”

Source: GreenBiz.com
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How companies can source down more sustainably

In conjunction with the release of the Textile Exchange 2019 Material Change Index, GreenBiz has partnered with Textile Exchange to publish actionable insights for apparel and textile companies looking to source raw materials more sustainably. The entire series may be found here.

Down comes from the fluffiest layer of feathers on duck and geese and is the most effective natural insulator in the textiles industry. Unlike most feathers that are long and stiff, down feathers are rounder, fuzzier and form clumps that can be used to fill pillows, sleeping bags and puffer jackets.

Because down feathers are both biodegradable and recyclable, few environmental risks are associated with their use. Instead, the key sustainability concerns related to down are around animal welfare. Down is often described as a byproduct of waterfowl raised for meat. Ideally, feathers would be plucked from birds only after slaughter; however, animal rights groups have drawn attention to the practice of suppliers live-plucking to get more than one harvest of down from a single bird. There are also concerns that down feathers can come from birds that have been force-fed for foie gras.

Because down is an animal byproduct, the material may not be acceptable for vegan consumers even if animal welfare protections are in place. Most non-animal substitutes for down are synthetic and come with their own negative impacts, leading to a potential trade-off between animal welfare and environmental harm when it comes to this material.

Textile Exchange supports the apparel and textiles sector in switching to preferable materials that have a more positive impact on people and the environment compared to conventional. Several years ago, Textile Exchange, in collaboration with The North Face, pioneered the Responsible Down Standard (RDS), which requires farmers, brands and supply chain members to respect the “Five Freedoms” of the animals that provide their down and uses audits to certify every step of the supply chain. Over 1,200 sites have been certified to the standard, which translates to certified protections in place for the health and well-being of over 500 million birds.

Textile Exchange also considers the following variations of down as preferred options:

  • Traceable Down Standard, which involves a chain of custody component that verifies traceability systems are in place throughout the supply chain

  • Downpass, which traces down to its producer and monitors quality with independent testing

  • Organic standards such as Organic Content Standard or Global Organic Textile Standard

  • Recycled down certified to the Global Recycled Standard, Recycled Content Standard or SCS Recycled Content Standard

 

How can companies level up their down sourcing strategy?

Every year, Textile Exchange publishes a Material Change Index that tracks the fashion industry’s progress toward more sustainable materials sourcing, as well as alignment with global efforts such as the Sustainable Development Goals and the transition to a circular economy.

Top performers in the preferred down category have some key activities in common. These should serve as inspiration for any companies looking to push their preferred down programs to the next level. Textile Exchange also will be sharing a more detailed analysis of findings later in 2020.

1. Work with your suppliers

Down and feather suppliers have an important role to play when connecting the farm to the textile value chain, as they are the principal procurer of the raw material. A strong risk management strategy would involve companies knowing all of their suppliers and farm locations, and ensuring that all parts of the business are trained and motivated to implement animal welfare policies and chain of custody criteria within the RDS.

Material change in action: To gain more transparency into its down supply chain, The North Face pioneered the creation of RDS in partnership with Textile Exchange and Control Union. The brand worked closely with existing down suppliers and shared its goals for RDS-certified product volume to ensure that its suppliers would have an appropriate supply of RDS-certified down available. It also trained and supported the certification processes of its cut-and-sew factories.

“Our suppliers understood the importance of the standard and were really cooperative partners in the learning process,” said Carol Shu, senior sustainability manager at The North Face. “Their willingness to learn the requirements of certification and ensure that we had the right traceability documentation and data for our own certification was critical.”

2. Identify regional risks

Supply chain risks will vary by region. It’s therefore useful for companies to map out their supply chains and identify high-risk areas, and then engage with animal welfare organizations (such as Four Paw) to deeply understand issues and opportunities for improvement in potentially high-risk situations.

While live-plucking and force-feeding are the more shocking welfare issues, more subtler welfare concerns such as lack of access to open water should not be overlooked. Waterfowl are aquatic animals and need access to water for exercise, for expressing natural behaviors such as preening (which removes dust and parasites from their feathers) and for cleaning their eyes and nostrils.

3. Commit to certification and continuous improvement

Because the industry and the public has become increasingly aware of practices such as live-plucking and force-feeding, brands have been moving quickly to switch out conventional down for preferred options.

Leading companies are additionally making long-term commitments with certified down suppliers and working towards continuous improvement with them. Even when a company is already using preferred down variations, there might be room to do better — for example, by moving to a diverse portfolio of certified virgin and recycled down.

Material change in action: A subsidiary of Columbia Sportswear Company, prAna, was an early adopter of recycled down. After struggling to trace its recycled down to a known source, the brand invested in traceability solutions for its suppliers.

Not only did prAna encourage all of its partners to streamline auditing and certification processes, but it also encouraged the use of the RDS to ensure greater credibility. “Using a product that is third-party certified and following an industry-proven standard strengthened the prAna brand and product integrity, as prAna’s small size did not support development of its own standard,” explained Rachel K. Lincoln, director of sustainability at prAna.

Source: GreenBiz.com
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How companies can source nylon more sustainably

In conjunction with the release of the Textile Exchange 2019 Material Change Index, GreenBiz has partnered with Textile Exchange to publish actionable insights for apparel and textile companies looking to source raw materials more sustainably. The entire series may be found here.

Nylon was the first fabric made entirely in a laboratory. A synthetic material derived from petroleum, it first became available around World War II and was used for military products and as a silk replacement for items such as stockings. Now, you’re more likely to find it in activewear, swimwear and other technical performance garments because of its durability and useful stretch properties. 

The production of nylon is similar to that of polyester, with similar environmental consequences. Like polyester, nylon is made from a non-renewable resource (oil) in an energy-intensive process. It sheds microplastic fibers that end up in waterways and oceans every time it is washed, and because it is not biodegradable, it will end up sitting in a landfill at the end of its product life cycle.

As an organization, Textile Exchange supports the apparel and textiles sector in switching to preferable materials that have a more positive impact on people and the environment compared to conventional. Recycled nylon is considered a preferred alternative to virgin nylon and bio-based nylons (produced with renewable raw materials) potentially offer a  promising alternative. 

Recycled nylon is usually made from pre-consumer fabric waste, although it also may come from post-consumer materials such as industrial fishing nets. Several “chain of custody” standards track recycled nylon through the supply chain, including the Recycled Claim Standard (RCS), Global Recycled Standard (GRS) and SCS Recycled Content.

Probably the best-known regenerated nylon product is Econyl, the first post-consumer recycled nylon to hit the market from Italian manufacturer Aquafil. Econyl is made of nylon waste from landfills and oceans in a closed-loop process and is infinitely recyclable. According to Aquafil, Econyl avoids about 50 percent of carbon dioxide emissions and uses about 50 percent less energy compared to virgin nylon yarns.

Bio-based nylon uses renewable feedstocks, such as Fulgar’s Evo made from 100 percent castor oil instead of petroleum. Independently verifiable sustainability standards for bio-based materials are emerging and will offer the industry much-needed guidance on renewable feedstock sustainability. Textile Exchange’s multi-stakeholder Biosynthetics Round Table, chaired by Brad Boren, director of innovation and sustainability at Norrona, is exploring the topic of raw materials sustainability in this area.

 

 

How can companies level up their nylon sourcing strategy?

Every year, Textile Exchange publishes a Material Change Index that tracks the fashion industry’s progress toward more sustainable materials sourcing, as well as alignment with global efforts such as the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and the transition to a circular economy. There are some key activities that top performers in the nylon category have in common.

These should serve as inspiration for any companies looking to push their preferred synthetic programs to the next level. Textile Exchange also will be sharing a more detailed analysis of findings later in 2020.

1. Bring nylon Into focus

Although nylon is a significant material for brands creating sport or performance wear, it isn’t as familiar to consumers because it only accounts for about 5 percent of all volume used by the textile industry. Several top-performing brands in this area invest in educating consumers about nylon’s impacts as a way to drive enthusiasm and interest. 

Material change in action: Coastal lifestyle brand Outerknown was introduced to regenerated Econyl nylon in its earliest stages and has partnered with its supplier, Aquafil, ever since. One of Econyl’s main inputs is ghost fishing nets pulled from the ocean, so using this fiber made sense for the brand’s environmental and communications goals, because clean water is a cause that resonates with its ocean-minded customer base.

Because of Econyl’s higher price point, Outerknown leaned into deep storytelling and captivating photography to take customers along for the journey and convince them of the fiber’s quality and sustainability.

“Our focus was on communication with customers to drive further change,” said Megan Stoneburner, director of sustainability and sourcing at Outerknown. “If our customers are educated on the issues we think about, they can demand better from the industry, and from us. Sustainability is the destination, and we are ever-evolving to get there.”

2. Explore bio-based alternatives

Beyond recycled, the textile industry seeks bio-based nylon alternatives that could wind up being more sustainable than recycled options. Many bio-based alternatives are still in early development, and brands leading the charge in this area are investing in research and development and engaging in pre-collaborative initiatives such as Textile Exchange’s Biosynthetics Working Group and Fashion for Good.

 

3. Factor durability into the equation

Quality and durability are essential for technical, high-performance products, which is why nylon is often used. Instead of evaluating sustainability solely from a production standpoint, consider it over the entire lifecycle of a garment. This might mean making design changes to ensure a product made of recycled materials stands the test of time or looking for ways to extend the period it can be used — for example, through repair programs as well as recycling ones.

Material change in action: Sporting goods company Norrona has been working with recycled synthetics for around 15 years and has a goal to use 75 percent recycled nylon by 2020. But early on, it found mechanical recycled fibers to be weaker than their virgin counterparts — when replacing a virgin polyester with a recycled polyester on a successful fleece style, it discovered that the recycled fleece started to pill after a month.

Now it conducts both material and product field testing on every product and material and makes structural changes when necessary to ensure that products made from recycled materials are fit for heavy use. It also implemented a 14-point quality control system.

“A recycled fiber that pills or abrades easier or has poor tear strength does not make a more sustainable product,” Boren said. “What felt good was when we tested products with recycled materials and they were fully technical, functional and the customer would never have known it was recycled unless we told them.”

Source: GreenBiz.com
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How companies can integrate a more sustainable materials strategy into their business

In conjunction with the release of the Textile Exchange 2019 Material Change Index, GreenBiz has partnered with Textile Exchange to publish actionable insights for apparel and textile companies looking to source raw materials more sustainably. This article introduces the index. The entire series may be found here.

Almost any textile you can think of — from cotton to leather to nylon — has social and environmental impacts risks at every level of its supply chain: from the growing or extracting of its raw material inputs, to the processing it takes to turn those inputs into the materials we recognize. But when it comes to managing risk and replacing harmful materials with preferable ones, it can be tough for companies to know where to begin.

Through Textile Exchange’s Material Change Index (MCI), we track the apparel, footwear and home textile sector’s progress toward more sustainable materials sourcing as well as alignment with global efforts such as the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the transition to a circular economy. This week, Textile Exchange proudly launched the fourth edition of the MCI, which featured the voluntary participation of more than 170 companies (some covered subsidiaries) including major brands such as Adidas, C&A, Gucci, IKEA, Inditex, Nike, Patagonia and Tchibo. 

The MCI is a core component of Textile Exchange’s Corporate Fiber & Materials Benchmark (CFMB) program, which supports companies through their transition to preferred materials. In 2019, 85 percent of participating companies had a commitment to converting at least one of their key material categories to “100 percent more sustainable.” Additionally, 38 percent of materials used by participating companies were from more sustainable sources. We are encouraged by the industry’s progress but recognize that there is a long way to go. 

That is why we have created this content series in partnership with GreenBiz. Over the course of 10 articles, we will surface key insights on how leading companies are integrating more sustainable materials into their portfolios. Later articles will focus on circularity, the SDGs and priority materials including cotton, polyester, nylon, man-made cellulosics, down, wool and leather. 

This article shares some high-level learnings from companies that have taken a holistic approach to their sustainable materials sourcing.

How can companies integrate a preferred materials strategy into their business?

Companies with a preferred fiber and materials strategy follow a systematic approach to integrating preferred fibers and materials into their business. At the most basic level, this means moving towards sourcing more sustainable materials, but ideally it also involves alignment with global efforts such as the SDGs as well as efforts around a transition to a circular economy.

The Material Change Index allows companies to better understand how their engagement compares to their peers. Here are a few overarching approaches that have allowed some leading companies to build holistic materials strategies that make a positive impact.

1. Commit to change

Organizations looking to move towards a more sustainable materials portfolio should start by setting measurable targets. These can be for overall materials use or by fiber and could focus on growing absolute volumes of preferred materials or increasing the proportion of preferred materials versus conventional. The most progressive organizations link their targets to global agendas such as the SDGs or the Science Based Targets Initiative. And they make public commitments to keep themselves accountable.

Material change in action: Since 2001, the Inditex Group (which owns eight fashion brands including Zara) has integrated four consecutive multi-year sustainability plans into all phases of the product life cycle: from design and sourcing to manufacturing and quality control to logistics and sales. Its most recent raw material sourcing commitments include that 100 percent of the cotton, linen, viscose and polyester used by all Inditex brands will be organic, more sustainable or recycled by 2025. These fibers constitute 90 percent of the raw materials purchased by the group.

“We have always conceived our sustainability project as a work in progress, a never-ending task,” said Félix Poza, chief sustainability officer for Inditex. “It is necessary to increase the pace of progress — without that it won’t be possible to reduce (or not increase) the impact of the fashion industry. We hope that our commitment and management in this field can be a force for change for the whole sector.”

2. Get everyone on board

Setting targets is a necessary first step, but the real work is in meeting them. To do that, it’s essential to secure alignment and buy-in from key stakeholders across the organization.

The most impactful strategies might require a longer-term pivot from the way business has been conducted thus far, so business leaders need to become change advocates and investors need to be bought into the change in direction.

Finally, the buyers and designers who play an important role in actually choosing more preferred options need to be set up for success. It’s not enough to merely task them with making more sustainable choices. They need to be equipped and incentivized to do so. This means rewarding those that explicitly and consciously factor sustainability value into their decision-making process.

Material change in action: Global retailer C&A began its preferred material sourcing journey in 2005 when it produced and sold 1 million pieces made from organic cotton. Fourteen years later, that number has increased to over 170 million certified organic cotton pieces per year.

The fashion retailer credits this scaling success to sourcing strategy engagement across all levels of the organization — a lesson being applied to increasing usage of more sustainable fibers, such as recycled materials and more sustainable viscose.

For example, C&A’s sustainability team trained merchant teams on how to buy organic cotton (including what certifications to look for) and used internal ambassadors to create excitement about the initiative across the business.

“Organic cotton brought a tremendous amount of pride and engagement amongst our employees and is seen as a lighthouse for our company values,” explained Jeff Hogue, chief sustainability officer of C&A. “Every employee has the opportunity to contribute through their actions, whether it’s placing certified organic cotton into our collections or serving as an ambassador to our customers on the benefits of organic cotton.” 

3. Invest in collective action

When it comes to the raw materials sourcing stage of the supply chain, the issues that need addressing and the levers that can be used to address them are numerous and wide-ranging.

At this stage, it can be helpful to work with others to drive meaningful change. Top performing companies tend to invest in collective action alongside governments, industry bodies and peer companies, and share their learnings widely so that other companies can benefit from them.

Material change in action: In 2017, clothing supplier Mantis World pledged to shift all its production to more sustainable fibers by 2021 — and has achieved this goal two years ahead of schedule.

Early in its sustainability journey, Mantis World saw the value in partnering with industry organizations such as non-profit Solidaridad, which helped its family-owned factory become the first factory in sub-Saharan Africa certified to the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS). Now, Mantis World is sharing what it has learned through Textile Exchange’s Pan-Africa Working Group, collaborating on a white paper targeted toward policymakers about the threat of genetically modified (GMO) cotton in Africa.

“This would not have happened unless several organizations — big and small — worked together, shared resources to create a piece of advocacy work aimed at government policy,” said Mantis World CEO Prama Bhardwaj. “When it comes to wider global environmental and social issues, we cannot even define them, let alone solve them, as one business alone. Being part of initiatives where organizations come together, share experience honestly and learn collectively is far more effective.”

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How the Textile Exchange’s new index aims to make a material difference

A new tool, released today, aims to push apparel and home furnishings companies further toward sustainability, and ramps up efforts by the textile and fashion industries to align material choices with the Sustainable Development Goals.

The Material Change Index (MCI) produced by the nonprofit Textile Exchange, is part of that organization’s Corporate Fiber & Materials Benchmark program, which enables participating companies to measure, manage and integrate a preferred fiber and materials strategy into their business. The index was created in part through the voluntary participation of more than 170 companies, including major brands such as Adidas, C&A, Gucci, IKEA, Inditex, Nike, Patagonia and Tchibo.

GreenBiz Group is serving as the lead media partner for the launch of the index, including publishing a series of articles produced by the Textile Exchange over the coming weeks with actionable insights for apparel and textile companies looking to source raw materials more sustainably. The MCI family of indices tracks progress across cotton, polyester, nylon, manmade cellulosics, down, wool, material circularity and the SDGs.

The index launch comes at a pivotal moment for the fashion industry, which has been under increased scrutiny for its environmental and social impacts. One reason is that the fashion industry’s sprawling supply chains stitches together a wide range of sectors and concerns, including agriculture, chemicals, energy, forestry, oil and gas, retail and transportation. And in each of those lies a range of extraction, energy, emissions and waste challenges, as well as a variety of social issues, from animal welfare to the rights of indigenous cultures.

The Textile Exchange focuses on the fiber material portion, “the very beginning of a quite long and often quite convoluted supply chain,” explains Liesl Truscott, director of the organization’s European and materials strategy. “It can get either forgotten about or is relatively invisible when the industry looks at the apparel and footwear and home textiles that are being produced.”

Truscott’s organization has been working for nearly two decades to bring visibility into the industry’s supply chain. It began its life as the Organic Cotton Exchange, then became the Organic Exchange, now the Textile Exchange, at each step taking on an increasingly broad portfolio — from cotton to additional materials, and from organic to other means of growing and producing sustainable textiles.

Along the way, the group, which has roughly 200 member companies — including brands, retailers and suppliers — has created a series of industry standards, covering organic content, recycled claims, chain-of-custody verification and “responsible down,” as in the feathery type.

“When you think about the whole volume of the industry, we still may be small in number, but we’re mighty in leadership,” LaRhea Pepper, the Textile Exchange’s managing director, told me recently. “We definitely have the brands and retailers and their supply network that are driving and being innovative and adopting those best practices, experimenting with business models, and really homing in on how they can make the best impact.”

Natural instincts

At the core of the Textile Exchange’s work is a benchmarking program, in which companies disclose a range of policies and practices, and their performance against each, via a secure online portal. The information submitted by companies is reviewed by the Textile Exchange and verified by an independent third party. The group also publishes a leaderboard of volume users of sustainable fibers, including which companies are using the sustainability standards associated with those fibers.

“It taps into a company’s natural instincts to be competitive, to be able to lead in improvements, and so there’s a bit of a friendly race to the top that’s incorporated into a benchmarking program,” explained Truscott.

The disclosure process itself is significant, she explained, by requiring companies themselves to better understand the sources and conditions under which their materials are produced. “At one point, if you asked a company where their cotton is coming from, they wouldn’t know or wouldn’t really be expected to know. Now, with the standards and the traceability that chain-of-custody can provide, we have better tools for collecting that data, centralizing it and being able to see further back. And Country of Origin was something nobody talked about a few years ago, and now it’s fairly common, particularly among the leaders and those that are fast catching up.”

To be sure, while materials typically represent the lion’s share of an apparel company’s supply chain, it may be only a fraction of its environmental impact. At C&A, the European fashion manufacturer and retailer that’s been a leader in circular economy, “Raw materials represent 17 percent of our impact” from a life-cycle perspective, Jeffrey Hogue, the company’s chief sustainability officer and a Textile Exchange member, told me.

Still, he said, sustainable sourcing can have an outsized impact, both internally and externally. “I think that the leading brands create a very holistic approach around sourcing sustainable fibers, where it’s not just about gaining more volume and using a third party to verify. It’s about educating our buying and sourcing organization to make the right decisions when they’re faced with difficult tradeoffs. It’s about going beyond certifications and actually putting our feet on the ground to evaluate with our own eyes what’s happening there and to create more engagement at the farm level. It’s about improving livelihoods.”

It will be interesting to watch how the Materials Change Index moves companies and, ultimately markets, and how broadly it is adopted beyond the current Textile Exchange membership. “I think there’s a lot more opportunity for the industry to come together collectively to work on these problems and not just having a number of leading brands setting their own commitments in isolation of other entities,” says Hogue.

Adds Pepper: “It’s exciting, because there’s finally this awakening at this bigger level, but it’s also daunting at some level of, ‘Whoa, we’ve got a lot of work to do.’ But I think the thing that’s most hopeful is that we have a direction of travel.”

Source: GreenBiz.com
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