Why Sustainability is the Major Mantra for Textile Industry

As the world teeters on the edge of the climate change precipice, the textile sector must curb its carbon trail. Brands adopting sustainable means stand to benefit in many ways.
Why Sustainability is the Major Mantra for Textile Industry 

Worldwide, various industries are being urged to embrace sustainable operations to curb their carbon trails. Among them are the fashion and textile sectors that are major contributors to rising CO₂ levels. 

For those questioning why this is necessary, the UN Climate Change Conference held in Glasgow has some stark revelations. It is common knowledge that if global temperatures cross 1.5-degrees Celsius, climate change may become irreversible. Unfortunately, the present NDCs (Nationally Determined Contributions) of nations across the globe fall far short of meeting the 2050 net-zero goal. 

Carbon Trail and our Common Cause

Therefore, it’s clear that all individuals and institutions, not only nations, need to contribute their mite in meeting climate change objectives to save our planet. It is in this context that the fashion and textile industries can set an example for skeptics to comprehend the gravity of global warming. 

Globally, the textile sector generates massive volumes of toxic chemicals and other effluents, leading to high air, soil, and water pollution. Besides, major quantities of water, energy, and land are required for its operations. In India, clothing and textile manufacturers annually junk 1.2 billion tons of cotton fiber. A form of pre-consumer waste, this exacerbates the landfill burden while increasing the creation of chemical leachate – a potential contaminator of groundwater reserves.  

In regions where regulations remain absent, chlorine, formaldehyde, and other chemicals plus heavy metals such as mercury and lead are being dumped without treatment into water bodies. The situation is more alarming because the textile sector uses 25 percent of all chemicals produced universally. 

Furthermore, 2,700 liters of water are needed to grow cotton enough to produce just one cotton T-shirt. Worse, pesticides used on textile crops, including cotton, end up polluting the land, harming flora and fauna as well as negatively impacting human health. 

Every person on Earth wears garments and makes use of other textiles daily. The tremendous scale of usage creates immense problems of pollution together with higher demand and wastage of natural resources. Conversely, this presents an excellent opportunity for fashion and textile players to address these issues by adopting eco-friendly, sustainable operations. 

Of course, numerous fashion and textile enterprises across geographies are already deploying sustainable manufacturing practices. These include recycling fibers, rejecting the use of agrochemicals or other toxins, producing recycled yarns of high quality, and limiting the use of energy and natural resources.  

For instance, a Philippines clothing firm makes bags and shoes from scrap material. A Brazilian fashion house repurposes used clothes into new ones and avoids plastic packaging, ensuring zero waste. There are myriad examples throughout the globe of firms avoiding environmentally-unsound practices by moving from fast fashion to the slow version. 

Circular, Sustainable, and Beneficial

But industry analysts believe the need of the hour is for the entire fashion and textile segment to be part of the circular economy, avoiding waste by recycling, reusing, and repurposing clothes. The demand for fast fashion in the form of cheap, trendy clothes is cited as a significant trigger for climate change. Going to some reports, the textile industry is responsible for around 8 percent of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. This isn’t surprising since it takes enormous amounts of freshwater and more than half a kilogram of chemicals to produce just one kg of textiles.

This scenario can be redressed, however, through large-scale innovations that promote sustainable operations and help reduce the environmental impact. For example, the pandemic has nudged almost all enterprises across the economy to move towards a digital or hybrid model of operation that exerts a lower environmental impact. 

Sustainability and circularity are also economically sound for businesses. Since smart product designs aid in eliminating or curbing waste in production and minimizing pollution during processing, it helps companies save money. Circularity will also augment climate change efforts. As per some estimates, circular business models such as fashion rentals, re-commerce, refurbishment, and repair can help eliminate 143 million tonnes of GHG emissions by 2030.

A recent UNEP study noted that stronger governance of the industry, greater financing of eco-friendly innovations, and a determined drive to change consumers’ consumption habits are imperative for the fashion sector to become more sustainable. 

Pegged at $1,000 billion in 2020, the global textile market is slated to grow at a CAGR of 4.4 percent between 2021 and 2028. The rapid rise of e-commerce platforms and the fashion sector’s burgeoning demand for apparel are expected to push the market’s growth in the years ahead. 

Against this backdrop, one must remember that the textile domain is linked to five of the UN’s 17 SDGs (sustainable development goals) – Climate Action, Clean Water & Sanitation, Responsible Consumption & Production, Decent Work & Economic Growth, and Gender Equality. If these goals are to be met by the target year of 2030, textile companies across continents must actively join the campaign for eliminating practices that exacerbate emissions and global warming. 

Meanwhile, as investors, shareholders, and other stakeholders become conscious of ESG-compliant brands, it is in the interests of fashion and textile firms to adopt sustainable practices. Besides green sourcing of raw materials and energy, it includes introducing innovative sustainability practices, processes, and policies that safeguard both human and environmental health. 

Considering the mounting focus on ESG issues, textile companies that adhere to eco-friendly policies and production practices will gain an unquestionable edge over other brands. In an increasingly hyper-competitive market, this could mark the big difference between successful brands and also-rans. 
 

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