We had lived our lives in linear economy where the emphasis was on consuming resource to make product, use the product and finally dispose it. As the number of people growing on earth this translates into need of more raw material, more manufacturing and this leads to more waste.
Linear economy was not a problem till the time our economies were small as compared to our eco system. But things were getting difficult from a point where our economies scaled up drastically and our eco system could not support it. In simple words what we are taking from eco system is much more than eco system generates in course of time. Also, we are making our eco system a dumping ground for non-biodegradable things.
Linear economies were supported by cheap energy, cheap raw materials and cheap credit available. But things are changing as resources are getting costlier, resource availability is also becoming harder, ecosystem is declining and financial system across world is getting complexed
So linear economies are not sustainable any more.
The efforts are ongoing to shift towards circular economy where the basic principle is to recover, reuse, generate less waste and use of renewable energies. The circular economy is operating system that should work like our natural eco system.
The circular economy is best depicted by ellen macarthur foundation butterfly diagram
It is a well-known fact that making of textiles consume lot of chemicals. These hazardous chemical effects environment, health of consumers and workers health throughout textile supply chain.
The top global concerns are
- Clean water
- Clean soil
- Clean air
- Healthy & Safe consumer products
Chemical management is the process that considers the environment, the health of consumer and the working condition/health of people working in fashion industry and reduce carbon footprint. It leads to the change towards safe product and healthy environment.
Chemical management is instrumental in delivering environmental performance improvements to all parts of the supply chain—brands, chemical suppliers, manufacturers and other intermediaries.
The objective of chemical management can be achieved with integrated system of chemicals and resource management. This includes making of chemical inventory list and process optimization.
Chemical inventory list screens the chemicals as per defined Restrictive substance List (RSL), Manufacturing restrictive substance list (MRSL) and legislations. Once you screen all possible chemicals consumed in process of textile supply chain, the next step is to choose alternatives means shifting from hazardous chemistries to safer chemistries.
The suppliers cannot change the things in one go, as in some case alternatives are not available. The best option is to priorities the hazards based on
- Quantity or percentage of chemical used
- Percentage of workers exposed
- Degree of harm (high to low)
So, the chemical management process defined the way
- Making chemical inventory list
- Hazard assessment and prioritization
- Phase out action
- Research action
- Storage and handling of chemicals
- Process optimization
- Treatment and disposal of waste
- Validating results
Fashion & sustainability are two different scenario, fashion is fast moving, and sustainability is about responsibility. Fast fashion hasn’t been sustainable while considering its long-term impact on social life and environment.
The clothing sales were increases dramatically in last five years and today consumer is having around 4 to 5 times of clothes as compared to their parents. Consumers are buying clothes to keep them happy which is quite opposite to the need-based buying. The fast fashion clothing available at cheaper rates that complies consumer to buy more in short intervals, as they don’t see actual cost of impact on social life and environment
Fast fashion and its impact on sustainability always creates debate where all parties blame to each other. Brands & retailers blames consumer for demand of cheap fashionable clothing, consumers blame brands for not being transparent and NGO’s blame brand for unethical practices.
So, the important question is that, can fast fashion and sustainability co-exist? The answer is yes, the actions are in transition phase. The important aspect of making fast fashion sustainable is to map potential environmental and social impact through life cycle assessment
Consumers should be aware about true cost of fast fashion clothing which is different from labelled prices. The true cost includes
- Cost of resource depletion
- Consequences of chemical pesticides use
- Social impact cost
- Cost of water and air pollution
- Cost of chemical exposure
- Landfill usage
The buyers should make mechanism to show the true cost on clothing labels that triggers into mindful consumption
The consumers should also think about environmental and social impact, read label more carefully, take care of clothes to increase longevity
The consumers are confused while buying clothing’s from counters of retailers or standalone stores having commitment of made sustainably specific to reasons
- Lack of transparent sustainability communication
- Extra cost charged by retailers
The consumers are unaware about how their clothes are made. The apparel making goes through various stages of textile supply chain and can be categories into input material, design, energy, water utilization, process optimization, waste generations, reutilization and social aspects. The sustainable clothing should address each category or majority of above mentioned categories.
The brands & retailers can build trust by embracing the following practices
- Transparency about sourcing input materials, utilization of natural resources, waste generation, working practices, use of renewable energy and supply chain
- Accreditation by neutral bodies (Eco-labelling)
- Educating customer about cost of adopting sustainable practices
- Inspiring behavior change
By committing to transparency, measuring inputs/outputs and doing proper communication / marketing brand and retailers can prove product sustainability to consumers and encourage them to go for it. The large-scale adoption of sustainable clothing will help producers to reduce cost and make it affordable to mass consumers
The textile wet processing faces many challenges related to environment & product safety but two most severe out of all are related to Water (high usage of fresh water and high contribution to water pollution) and Failure to Restrictive substances on end article. The brands and end consumers are getting aware about these challenges via reports published by NGO’s and independent testing laboratories. The made green initiatives are gaining momentum and various protocols were generated by brands and testing laboratories to make compliance with environmental & product safety norms.
There are multiple environmental certification & product safety labels in the textile wet processing sector, the most common ones are Oeko tex, GOTS, REACH, Bluesign, C2C & ZDHC. These programmes either take care about restrictive substance list (RSL), waste water guidelines or both. Even brands & retailers are also making efforts to build their own guidelines related to RSL and asking their suppliers to compliant with it.
Many brands & retailers are joining common certification initiative like ZDHC manufacturing restrictive substance list (MRSL) and waste water guidelines. The constant efforts are building pressure on manufactures to adopt sustainable practices and chemical industries to provide safer chemicals
But there is still lot to do, the most common problem faced by manufactures is to complaint with multiple certifications that add to confusion and cost. The efforts should be made to build consensus among all brand & retailers to follow single stringent list to complaint at sustainable testing cost