MATERIALS ON THE TEXTILE INDUSTRY
Sustainability refers to a theory, or way of life, that does not harm the environment. Often sustainable textiles are designed by observing the natural environment. The textile industry has become seriously involved in sustainable production practices because of climate change. For example, one t-shirt produces up to 50 times the amount of carbon dioxide emissions (10 kg CO2) than the t-shirt weighs when finished (200 kg). Making t-shirts with the process the results in the generation of so much CO2 is not sustainable because the environment is damaged. Customers are demanding sustainable clothing more and more. Governments have started developing textile manufacturing regulations based upon sustainable goals. The Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) measures impacts on the environment during production, starting with the raw materials until the disposal of product at the end of its life. Sustainable products are made with fair labour practices and good working conditions for the workers. Therefore there is a real challenge to compete with countries like China and India who use low-wage workers and low-cost methods. One of the solutions to the problem of competition has been to develop high quality textile materials and clothing with smart capabilities. Smart clothes have sensors sewn into the fabric to sense temperature and humidity changes and monitor other influences on the person wearing the clothes.
Sustainability: The Impact of Recyclable Materials on the Textile Industry
The momentum for using sustainable processes and making available sustainable clothing has influenced the textile production all over the world. The theory behind sustainable clothing is to leave no impact; and, if possible, no negative impact on the environment so future generations will have the same quality of life or a better quality of life than we have now. The problem of climate change has motivated the textile industry to become very serious about sustainability in order to please their customers and to meet government regulations. Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) was developed as a method to measure impacts on the environment from raw materials to disposal of product at the end of its life.
Sustainable clothing does not leave a negative impact on the environment. Clothes made sustainably are made with fair labour practices and good work conditions for the workers. The apparel and textile industry is important to a healthy global economy because it accounts for 7 percent of world-wide exports (Dickson and Loker 2009: 66). The UN Industrial Development Organization reported the following figures on the industry.
- About 26.5 million labourers are employed in the industry
- The US world sales amount to approximately $1 trillion
- Roughly 66 percent of the $1 trillion come from North America and Western Europe
- The Asian consumer sector accounts for more or less 25 percent of the $1 trillion (UN as reported in Dickson and Loker 2009: 66)
Citizens in the UK purchase about 2 million tonnes per tonne at a cost of close to ₤23 billion. UK clothing is mainly imported. According to DEFRA (2010; 2008) the total amount of imported clothing is approximately ninety percent. One fifth of the UK consumer market is made up of the most unsustainable sector; the discount clothing sector with low-cost garments with a short lifetime (DEFRA 2010: 2). On the other, hand sustainable clothing “maximises positive and minimizes negative environmental, social and economic impacts along its supply and value chain” (DEFRA 2010: 5). So sustainability is highly desired over the negative impacts of unsustainable practices. China and India are popular suppliers for clothing in Europe because the offer low prices. Unfortunately the low prices are possible due to activities that cause negative influences to the environment, labour and trade.
Europe’s textile and clothing production industry lost 33 percent of “both production volume and jobs within a ten year period form 1996” due to the impact of China’s production of textiles and clothing (Vogler-Ludwig and Valente 2009: 3). The problems faced included the low wages paid in other countries, such as India and China. A main strategy to remedy the problem is to develop innovative smart fabrics that contain sensors. Exciting types of clothing that are being developed with collaboration between textile producers and engineers that can sense the comfort of the wearer because of electronic components, for example (Vogler-Ludwig and Valente 2009: 4). The solution to making a profit in the highly competitive consumer market is to meet high quality specialty textile needs (Vogler-Ludwig and Valente 2009: 4). For the U.K. this means offering high quality clothing with ‘smart’ capabilities in order to succeed in the sector.
Sustainability requires evaluating an item throughout its lifecycle starting with the raw materials used to make the fibres until the end of the useful life of the apparel or textile item. Figure 2 shows the life cycle of clothing products has many steps. Raw materials must be selected to make the fibres, the assembly and textile production equipment must be maintained, and delivery takes the products to the customers. The customers use the product as it was originally designed to be used and then dispose of the garment when they no longer wish to wear it. But that is not the end of a garments life cycle because it can be recycled and/or reused with the correct technology. (See fig. 1)
Figure 1The Life Cycle Assessment for Sustainable Clothing
The textile sector has one of the worst records for greenhouse gas emissions and has been guilty of making the Global Warming problem worse. Falinox.com (2014) explained that traditional cotton t-shirt weighing 200 grams needs 500 litres of water during the industrial process. (See table 1) And that is not the only large amount of water needed when one takes into account the life cycle assessment, starting with the raw materials. Growing the cotton to make the t-shirt requires 2000 litres of water and 4 square metres of land. The production of one t-shirt also needs 5kWatt hours of energy. The by-products include 4 kg of steam, 0.4 kg of chemicals and 10 kg of carbon dioxide emissions. Flainox notes that the one t-shirt produces up to 50 times the amount of carbon dioxide emissions (10 kg CO2) than the t-shirt weighs when finished (200 kg). The textile goods global production adds up to 60 billion kg per year, so the problem is a large one, therefore changes are being made.
The company Flainox approaches the problem of unsustainabilty from the perspective of “Measure, Mitigation and Management of the Carbon Foot” (2014: para. 2). The carbon footprint is used to measure the amount of carbon emissions that activities and processes add to the atmosphere. The reason is because carbon atmospheric emissions, especially Carbon Dioxide, increase the Greenhouse effect. The greenhouse effect adds to climate change problems. The Carbon Footprint is the measurement of the concentration of carbon dioxide gas emitted over the entire life of a product or service.
Flainox (2014) has been successfully reducing their carbon footprint for about four years. An important strategy has been to use resources efficiently. Universal NRG Flainox has a carbon footprint mainly from the textile plant when using fossil fuel for energy; 99.6 percent of greenhouse gas emissions occur at that point for processing raw materials, transport, assembly, use and end of life (See fig. 2). The duration for the Carbon Footprint Life Cycle of Universal NRG Flainox is 15 years. Figure 2 shows the amount of pollution and resource reduction has been accomplished by the company. Eco-Design a part of Universal NRG Flainox, for example, has been able to reduce carbon emissions at during the customer phase. The textile plant has found a way to accomplish “up to 35 percent CO2 emissions reductions per kilogram of fabric produced and up to $2.4 million in fifteen years of operating costs per machine” (flainox.com/blog 2014: para. 6).
Figure 2 Chart of successful reduction in the company’s Carbon Footprint
(Source: flainox.com/blog, para. 3, 2014)
The European Union (EU) regulation on textile products has defined textiles as “any raw, semi-worked, worked, semi- manufactured, manufactured, semi-made-up or made-up product which is exclusively composed of textile fibres, regardless of the mixing or assembly process employed” (Article 3(1)(a)) (BIS 2012: 4). EU legislation has covered the issues of poor wages in countries that import textiles to Europe, definitions for textile names, and chemical analysis standards for textile fibres (Retail 2013: 2). The main legislation passed by the EU according to Retail Forum in sustainability (2013: 3) includes the regulation of the use of biocides, the appropriate management of water, labelling requirements, supply chain standards for textiles label organic cotton and developing ways to measure the impacts of industries on society and on the environment.
Dickson and Loker (2009) list three important stakeholders in the manufacturing sector of the industry: the factory workers, the local community and the human resource (HR) manager. Therefore regulating the features of sustainability including social responsibility call for international cooperation; trade agreements have been used as a method to include high quality treatment of workers as a goal for the textile industry. (Dickson and Loker 2009: 66) Social responsibility requires all the stakeholders to take positive actions to meet the shared goal of sustainability. (See fig. A-2) Human rights are used as a guide. The UK successfully increased the amount of reused and recycled textiles from 2003 to 2008 by 60 percent. (Morley, Bartlett and McGill 2009: i) On the other hand, production of products for the UK and other European consumers still takes place mostly in China and India. (Retail 2013: 1)
Stakeholder involvement has been shown to be an important feature of successfully reaching sustainability goals. Unfortunately, the European Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) and the Fair Wear Foundation part of the Workers rights Consortium influence of these types of entities is weak. For example, the ETI strongly recommended raising the minimum wage for workers. The apparel company Levi & Strauss did not comply, but the only punishment they received was suspension from the EPI. (Dickson and Loker 2009: 117)
A factory in Mumbai has had success directing the HR manager to make good labour practices a priority. (Dickson and Loker 2009: 41) The UDHR code applied in the case was the labour compliance and other standards pertaining to new clothing manufacture. The company supplies big brands in the USA, Western Europe and Japan. The manager evaluates the state of affairs of the suppliers to the factory with the every new clothing line production. Pregnancy tests were taken quarterly, and a woman testing positive for pregnancy would be fired. On the other hand the Fruit of the Loom 2014 Supplier Guidelines considers pregnancy testing as gender and medical discrimination.
“Pregnancy testing: This can be viewed as gender and medical discrimination. While it may not be against the law, it is viewed as discrimination by human rights groups and general public. Similarly to medical discrimination, if the results of a pregnancy test are used to exclude women from employment, this is discrimination. Suppliers should be careful not to allow their facilities to conduct these tests.” (Fruit 2014)
The Sustainable Clothing Action Plan was created by UK’s former Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) when the Sustainable Clothing Roadmap was created. The purpose of the roadmap was to clearly establish clothing and fashion stakeholder actions with the goal of increased success with the “sustainability performance of clothing” (DEFRA 2008: 4). Sustainability includes environmental, political and social impacts of the textile supply chain. Not only that the world-wide clothing supply is chain very complex (See table A-1). The life cycle stage refers to the production process, the environmental impacts refer to pollution and land use, and social impacts include worker’s rights, safety and health. Natural and synthetic fibres for textiles are formed from a variety of materials including cotton, hemp, wool and oil.
New types of materials and new designs are an important part of developing and maintaining a sustainable strategy. Designer Kate Ledger, an art student, developed a line of clothing called “Shed me Clothes.” (See fig. 3) The design concept mimics the way snakes shed their skins. When the top of layer of the clothing is ready for a laundry instead the garment is sprayed with water. The water combines with the materials of the outermost layer and peels off, ready to be safely composted.
Figure 3“Shed me Clothes designed by Kate Ledger
The UK successfully increased the amount of reused and recycled textiles from 2003 to 2008 by 60 percent. (Morley, Bartlett and McGill 2009: i) On the other hand, production of products for the UK and other European consumers still takes place mostly in China and India. (Retail 2013: 1)
The EU has passed legislation on toxic chemicals and waste from the textile industry. Textile standards are necessary to ensure the quality of the textiles while maintaining low negative social and environmental impacts. At this time, the regulatory agencies need influence in order to force compliance with government-backed standards. But the industry is taking initiative in order to make their customers happy by offering eco-friendly clothing. Textiles with sensors to sense comfort levels are a whole new production area that is opening up to form a new niche in the global textile industry. The main challenge is competing with China and the low-cost clothing produced there.
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(DEFRA 2008: 5)