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All Along the Supply Chain, Sustainability is Reaching New Heights

The apparel and textile industry is stepping up in the environmental arena.

While the textile and apparel industry has suffered criticism for its poor ecological performance, including being a major contributor to landfills, water pollution and waste, a significant turnaround seems to be in the making.

Companies along the supply chain, from fiber and thread manufacturers to brands and retailers, are taking sustainability seriously and making major strides in how they produce their goods.


Walmart just reported that its suppliers have reduced more than 20 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions in the global value chain as part of the company’s Project Gigaton initiative. About 85 percent of Project Gigaton emissions reductions by suppliers have come from efforts in energy and product use.

Walmart also cited progress toward its 2025 goal of using 50 percent renewable energy globally. As a result of several new solar and wind projects, Walmart plans to more than double the amount of renewable energy it uses in the U.S. and increase the percentage of global electricity needs derived from renewable sources above the current 28 percent.

In its 2017 Sustainability Report, H&M outlined progress on 2020 and 2030 goals, including sourcing only sustainable cotton by 2020, using only recycled or sustainably sourced materials by 2030 and becoming climate-positive across its supply chain by 2040.

To help get to a more circular supply chain, H&M collaborated with Re:newcell, a company that uses technology to recycle used cotton, viscose and other cellulosic fibers into new fibers. The retailer also became one of the two main investors in Treetotextile, a company developing an eco-friendly textile fiber based on forest raw materials.

H&M is also reducing emissions by sourcing from more sustainable material sources and recycling textiles for apparel production. Last year, 96 percent of H&M Group’s electricity came from renewable resources, while reducing emissions from its operations by 21 percent compared to 2016.

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H&M collected 17, 771 tons of textiles through its garment collecting initiative in 2017, which it said amounts roughly to 89 million T-shirts. This represents a 12 percent increase from the number of textiles it collected for recycling and reuse in 2016.


In December, VF Corp. created a comprehensive initiative called Made for Change, outlining goals for environmental and social improvements across its business, global supply chain and communities worldwide.

VF has committed to reducing its global environmental footprint by 50 percent from farm to door by 2030, and achieving a 35 percent reduction in the average environmental impact of key materials used to make its products for brands that include Vans, The North Face, Timberland, Wrangler and Lee.

A key focus is “Circular Business Models,” fueled by a belief that the linear system of production–take, make, use, waste–is not sustainable. This work will include branded rental and re-commerce business strategies for its brands, and emphasizing products designed to have a second life.

Another target is “Scale for Good,” which involves dramatically reducing the impact of materials such as water and cotton used to manufacture its products, and decarbonizing across its supply chain to lower greenhouse gas emissions.

In its environmental evaluation, HanesBrands said it reduced its carbon dioxide emissions by 15 percent, energy use by 6 percent and water use by 7 percent last year, while increasing use of renewable energy by 7 percent. The company, which owns most of its manufacturing and supply chain operations, diverted 84 percent of supply chain waste from landfills during the year.

Hanesbrand said when compared to its 2007 baseline, the company has committed to reducing carbon emissions and energy use by 40 percent each, and water use by 50 percent by 2020. The company also pledged to secure at least 40 percent of its energy from renewable sources compared to 33 percent in 2017 and achieve zero waste by diverting company-owned supply chain waste from landfills.

“These across-the-board improvements indicate our strong commitment to create a more efficient and energy-conscious organization for both the areas where we do business and the larger worldwide community,” Michael E. Faircloth, group president of global supply chain, information technology and e-commerce for HanesBrands, said.

HanesBrands’ environmental efforts include ensuring wastewater-treatment systems at all of its textile manufacturing facilities adhere to or exceed leading global wastewater-management practices. The company also recycles cotton fabric waste from its textile-cutting operations that is then spun into yarn to make socks and apparel. HanesBrands also uses recycled polyester filament yarns and fibers derived from plastic bottles to make fleece products, and in cotton and polyester blend EcoSmart T-shirts.

Similarly, The North Face has launched an effort to help national parks reduce waste and increase recycling rates as part of its new “Bottle Source” initiative. The project aims to advance the brand’s use of sustainable materials and create a more circular economy by extending the life cycle of single-use plastic bottles.

Apparel in the Bottle Source collection are made from a blend of Better Cotton Initiative cotton and Repreve recycled polyester.

In a partnership with Parley for the Oceans, Adidas launched the Adidas x Wanderlust Collection, which uses upcycled ocean plastic that is turned into high performance recycled polyester thread for apparel and footwear products.

Textile Firms

Denim Expert Ltd. is ramping up efforts to conserve water. The Bangladesh-based denim manufacturer launched a new water-saving collection it said uses an average of 32 liters of water per jean—nearly half of what’s traditional.

Jeanologia CEO Enrique Silla thinks its technologies can combine to make all jeans 100 percent water-free by 2025. The company was a pioneer with its water-saving technologies like E-flow, which replaces water with air to transfer chemicals onto garments, and G2 technology, an ozone washing process that reduces water usage by 65 percent. The technologies achieve the same aesthetics of traditional washing and finishing, but with less impact on the environment.

The Lenzing Group recently made a major step forward in its commitment to sustainability by implementing a further substantial reduction of specific emissions by 2022. The commitment includes a 50 percent sulfur emission reduction by 2022 compared to 2014, and a 20 percent reduction in chemical oxygen demand, which measures the amount of organic compounds in water in the same period.

“Climate protection and thus the preservation of forests as carbon sinks storing CO2 are two key issues with respect to societal acceptance of the textile and nonwovens industry,” Lenzing Group CEO Stefan Doboczky said.

For its Repreve fiber, Unifi Inc. uses 45 percent less energy, 20 percent less water and achieves a 30 percent reduction in greenhouse gasses compared to production of virgin polyester. Last year, Unifi recycled more than 10 billion plastic bottles, and is targeting 20 billion bottles recycled by 2020, and 30 billion bottles by 2022.

Thread maker American & Efird’s sustainability report noted it has recycled or reused more than 1.5 billion liters of wastewater since 2013 and has achieved a 48 percent reduction in global water consumption since 2006.

A&E’s Zero-Waste-to-Landfill status grew to encompass 16 global manufacturing operations and support facilities in 2017. The company has invested $12 million since 2010 in wastewater treatment technology.

A&E said 48 percent of the fuels used to make steam at A&E facilities were renewable and carbon-neutral in 2017. The company uses renewable biomass fuels such as rice hulls, wood refuse and mustard-plant residue to create power.