Sustainable... What is it?
By: Charline Ducas - Sustainable Materials Specialist, Textile Exchange
According to the Brundtland Commission of the United Nations, sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
This is a concept we stand behind at Textile Exchange. It is our North Star, and governs everything we do as an organization and encourage in the world. We believe embracing sustainability means endorsing this vision and working towards it. It is a journey with a clearly defined starting point but no end point; a journey toward a situation where prosperous societies thrive on a healthy planet.
When it comes to addressing sustainability within textiles, we believe that the industry needs to look at ways to minimize negative impacts, while taking action on opportunities for creating positive impacts, not only to restore the environment but to help safeguard the future health and growth of the industry.
In this context, we all need to look at solutions and technologies that help us move on this continuum towards Sustainability or Sustainable Development. Any development which can support this goal is worth considering; whether it is an innovation with a small “i”, i.e. a development that is lowering the impact of current practices, or an Innovation with a capital “I”, i.e. a development that is radically changing both process and product design and creating positive change.
We live in a very dynamic environment. Different organizations will be at different stages along the sustainability continuum, and their positions will change constantly. Hence their strategies and priorities will differ but as well the solutions and technologies they will consider evaluate and adopt. A customized world requires equally customized approaches in line that balance organizational priorities and strategies and those that will help shift both single organizations and entire industries to better business practices.
In this context, telling that certain materials, approaches or technologies are sustainable in absolute terms can be a shortcut that leads to wrong conclusions. Many parameters along the whole life cycle of a product impact its environmental and social footprint. If we look at fibre selection more specifically, the environmental and social impacts of fibre manufacturing depend on both the raw material extraction and its transformation into a fibre ready for textile processing. These impacts depend highly on the technologies used as well as the region and/or country of production, the local legislation, the availability of resources, the supplier performances in terms of efficiencies, environmental management,...etc. In addition, the selection of a specific fibre over another does not only have an environmental or social impact in fibre manufacturing, it also has an influence on the environmental orsocial impact in fabric processing, product manufacturing, consumer use phase, and end of life – on the whole life cycle of a product.