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ESG Outlook: Andrew Schulenburg of Circular Systems on Scaling Recycled Cotton With H&M, Converse

ESG Outlook is Sourcing Journal’s discussion series with industry executives to get their take on their company’s latest environmental, social and governance initiatives and their own personal efforts toward sustainability. In this Q&A, Andrew Schulenburg, senior vice president, marketing of Circular Systems discusses why the industry needs more cooperation and less competition.

Andrew Schulenburg Circular Systems
Andrew Schulenburg, senior vice president, marketing, Circular Systems Courtesy

Name of Company: Circular Systems

Name: Andrew Schulenburg

Title: SVP Marketing

What do you consider to be your company’s best ESG-related achievement over the last 5 years?

The optimization and scaling of our Texloop™ RCOT™ Primo recycled cotton. Recycled cotton can have a bad rap in the industry as it relates to performance and product limitations. But with our advanced sorting and “Lightest-Touch” processing methodology, we can achieve a longer staple fiber length that allows us to execute up to 50 percent GRS certified recycled cotton / 50 percent organic cotton composition in a high-quality 130-140 GSM jersey.

In 2020, with immediate demand from customers like Converse, H&M, Arket, Girlfriend Collective, and a few others, we produced over 223,000 KGS of RCOT recycled cotton that was blended with organic cotton and other preferred fibers like Tencel. For a small company like Circular Systems, this was a significant milestone for us. In 2021, we are looking to multiply that number significantly.

What is your personal philosophy on clothes/consumer products shopping as it pertains to sustainability and caring for your clothes?

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I try to “walk the walk” as much as I can. Buying less is the starting point. If I do buy, I try and buy high-quality products that will last and that are made of low-impact natural fibers like recycled cotton, organic cotton and hemp. And if I am buying a product that calls for synthetic composition like a pair of swim trunks or a piece of outerwear, I go for recycled polyester or recycled nylon. I also try and by secondhand when I can.

How much do you look into a brand’s social or environmental practices before shopping?

Always. I want to try and support the brands that are making an effort and who are proving their need to exist.

How do you try to minimize the environmental impact of the clothes/consumer products you buy, either on the purchasing side and/or end-of-use angle?

I buy less, and when I do purchase products, I try to buy things that are high quality and long-lasting. And if it’s a product that inherently has a short life span, I try and steer my purchasing decisions toward products that have an environmentally safe end-of-life solution.

What would you say is the biggest misconception consumers have about sustainability in fashion?

One of the misconceptions I come across is the misuse of the term “sustainable.” Something might say: “This is more sustainable than that,” but it doesn’t work like that. A solution is either “sustainable” or it isn’t.

Since you work in this industry, do you find yourself trying to help clarify such misconceptions? 

I’d like to see how we can focus the communication on impact assessment and lowering impacts in general, while creating a roadmap for producing positive impacts that go back to people and planet.

What was your company’s biggest takeaway from the Covid crisis?

In my opinion, I would say our biggest takeaway was the importance of focus. Not only focusing on the circular and regenerative mission, but really servicing the need from our customers at the highest level.

What is your company’s latest sustainability-related initiative? 

We are working on diving deeper into the impacts of our Texloop and Agraloop fiber solutions, not only how we match up against SDG’s (sustainable development goals), but also refining impact methodology while applying data to elevated communication tools.

What do you consider to be the apparel industry’s biggest missed opportunity related to securing meaningful change?

Working together on scaling solutions. We need less competition and more cooperation.