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Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way
WEB MAGAZINE - February 2018

Textile industry in search of sustainable alternatives

Action needed throughout the value chain

The projects are part of the Nordic action plan for sustainable fashion and textiles – Well dressed in a clean environment, which was launched under the Danish presidency of the Nordic Council of Ministers in 2015. The main results were presented at the conference Taking the pulse of the Nordic fashion and textile industry 2018, held in Copenhagen on 2 February.

These six projects tap into different parts of the textile value chain,” says Anne-Mette Bendsen of Miljøstyrelsen, the Danish Environmental Protection Agency. “Our education initiative focuses on the design phase, in which many of the decisions that determine a product’s environmental impact are made. We’ve addressed information about production processes and the use of chemicals throughout the supply chain, and explored ways in which to encourage lifecycle thinking, sustainable consumption, and textile-to-textile recycling.”

The education project Bendsen is referring to is Promotion of sustainable Nordic design through education. This initiative has established a network of Nordic design schools that are committed to sharing resources on sustainability and promoting training and education opportunities in the region. The project has developed a digital platform for design schools and current and future designers, which gives an overview of courses on sustainable textiles design in the Nordic region,

“Quality design education focusing on sustainability will be paramount in preparing current and future textile and fashion designers for the sustainable transformation of the sector,” says Bendsen.

“We must create systems that allow us to shift from the current linear take-make-dispose paradigm towards more sustainable production and consumption patterns”

David Watson
Senior Consultant at PlanMiljø

More textile-to-textile recycling

There are many good reasons for the Nordic region to reduce the environmental impact of textiles. Nordic consumers buy large quantities of textiles each year – between 13-16 kilos per person – and the fashion and textile industry remains an important sector in the region’s economy.

“A considerable share of our consumption is fast fashion – cheap clothing that you use for a short period of time before discarding it and replacing it with something new,” she says. “On a positive note, however, many initiatives promoting sustainable textile production and consumption are currently being launched in the Nordic region.”

Some of these initiatives are featured in the case wallet Textile-to-textile recycling – Ten Nordic brands that are leading the way. It describes the initiatives implemented by selected Nordic brands, including global clothing retailer H&M, to increase textile recycling. These include using recycled fabrics in production, designing products with disassembly and recyclability in mind, and establishing closed-loop systems, where the companies set up take-back systems for collecting used textiles for recycling and subsequent use in new production.

The case wallet was published as part of a project aiming to stimulate textile-to-textile recycling. In addition, the project group produced a detailed analysis of the challenges brands experienced and the strategies they adopted to overcome these. It also analysed what would be needed to mainstream textile-to-textile recycling across the industry.

“We must create systems that allow us to shift from the current linear take-make-dispose paradigm towards more sustainable production and consumption patterns,” says David Watson, Senior Consultant at environmental consultancy PlanMiljø. “Our objective should be to extend the active lifetimes of textile products as far as possible, such as through reuse by one or more users, and by recycling worn-out textiles as material input into new textile products.

Clear and transparent information

A common feature of the Nordic action plan initiatives is their focus on the need for clear and transparent information across different parts of the supply chain and towards consumers.

Greater Nordic influence in the EU on harmful textiles has analysed the need for declaration and labelling of chemicals in textiles and provided input into an EU strategy for a non-toxic environment. Supplier requirements for sustainable textiles production has approached the issue from a different angle by developing Safer Textiles, a step-by-step tool that enables producers to monitor the use of chemicals in their supply chains.

Around 2,500 chemicals are used in textile production, 1,150 of which are considered hazardous. This makes it difficult for producers, especially SMEs, to ensure that their production meets legal requirements regarding chemicals or stricter requirements set by the companies themselves.

“Based on EU legislation and national legislation in the Nordic countries, Safer Textiles provides an overview of the chemical substances used in the fabrics, materials and production treatments that the user has selected,” says Anna Lyster of Compliance House, the company that developed the tool for the Nordic Council of Ministers. “The output shows the maximum allowable limits for each chemical, thereby enabling the producers to enter into dialogue with their supply chain on the use of chemicals and the environmental impact of their products.”

Broader range of ecolabelled products

Despite growth in supply in recent years, the range of ecolabelled textile products is still limited. The aim of Promoting the supply of ecolabelled products has been to demonstrate the market advantages of ecolabelling and ensuring more visibility of ecolabelled products, as well as to provide input into the revision of the Nordic Swan Ecolabel and the EU Ecolabel for textiles.

“There is a need to improve the resource efficiency and environmental performance of the sector and address the many social issues associated with textile production,” says Bendsen. “Helping consumers choose products that fulfil strict ecolabelling criteria could drive this change.”

Global playing field

The Nordic action plan for sustainable fashion and textiles was launched not only to influence the textile industry in the region, but also in the EU and on a global level. Two working groups within the Nordic Council of Ministers are now planning to submit the results from the projects as input to the 10YFP programme, a UN initiative to enhance co-operation to accelerate the shift towards sustainable consumption and production patterns.

“The textile industry is a global playing field and the products are typically produced far away from the Nordic region,” says Bendsen. “Therefore, our hope is that the guides and tools that have been created through Nordic co-operation will influence EU policy and inspire change in a global context.”

Photo 1: Jason Briscoe/Unsplash

Photo 2: Igor Ovsyannykov/Unsplash

Photo 3: Dan Gold/Unsplash