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Top 10 Sustainability Moments in 2015

To say that 2015 was a big year for sustainability is a slight understatement.

From the United Nations formally adopting its new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in September to the COP 21 climate change talks in Paris in December, it’s clear that cleaning up the environment and making the world a better place for future generations was top of mind for companies and international organizations alike.

Here’s a look back at 2015’s sustainability movers and shakers in the textile and apparel industry.

1. Ethiopia Gets World’s First Fully Sustainable Denim Plant
Kanoria Africa Textiles launched a state-of-the-art denim manufacturing facility near Bishoftu in Ethiopia in October. Housing the latest technology and a zero-discharge, closed-loop production process, the plant will be able to churn out 12 million meters (13 million yards) of fabric per year at full capacity. The company expects to grow that to 18 million meters (about 19.7 million yards) within one year.

But the star of the sustainability show is Kanoria’s effluent treatment system, which can clean and reuse between 85 and 90 percent of its water, which goes right back into the washing area of the plant. The remainder moves on to a crystallizer, where a further 4 percent or so of the water can go back into the washing process and the balance is turned into salts the company will give to local tanneries to use in leather making.

2. Rainforest Action Network Releases Irresponsible Fabric Sourcing Report, Calls Out 15 Big Brands
Michael Kors, Vince, Guess and Ralph Lauren were among the American brands called out by Rainforest Action Network (RAN) in August for reportedly contributing to deforestation and human rights violations. The report, titled “Lessons from the Incense Forest,” documented the results of decades of irresponsible fabric sourcing.

3. Ikea Reaches 100% Sustainable Cotton Target
In September, Swedish home goods store Ikea became the first international retailer to declare that 100 percent of the cotton it uses for its products comes from sustainable sources. Namely, from farmers working in accordance with Better Cotton Initiative’s (BCI) Better Cotton Standard and whose processes use less water and fewer chemical fertilizers.

4. New Report Reveals 2015 Sustainable Supply Chain Trends
Thirty-two percent of executives polled by business intelligence provider Ethical Corporation for a “Sustainable Supply Chain Trends 2015” report said they are still incentivized to rid their supply chains of risk. Reputation worries ranked high for 23 percent of those surveyed, who cited social media as a concern for brands found to be engaging in unethical practices, whether knowingly or not. Meanwhile, nearly 24 percent of the corporate brand, agency, academic, government and NGO respondents across all regions (North America, Europe, Asia Pacific) said seeing the sector work together is the “most exciting opportunity” for supply chain sustainability.

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5. Nike and MIT Call for Textile Innovation to Combat Climate Change
Nike teamed up with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Climate CoLab in September to hasten the development of innovative materials that will help shrink its supply-chain footprint. As part of the partnership, an open-to-the-public contest kicked off, calling for suggestions on how to engage industries, designers and consumers in valuing, demanding and adopting environmentally-friendly fabrics and textiles.

In addition, Nike’s predictive app, Making (which launched two years to help designers and consumers make better decisions about their fabric and materials choices), was updated to compare the climate-related impact of those picks alongside chemistry, waste and water.

6. 63% of Textile Companies Can Map Supply Chains Back to Fiber Source
The latest benchmarking report from global non-profit organization Textile Exchange (TE) tracked the progress of 57 textile companies—with a combined wealth of more than $500 billion—in their attempt to become more sustainable. The report, published in September, found that 93 percent of respondents claimed to have a sustainability mission in place and 81 percent said they have addressed raw materials use at the strategic level.

However, while 63 percent of respondents said they can map their supply chains back to the fiber source, just 35 percent of those surveyed publicly report on how they stack up against key performance indicators or targets. Companies that participated in the benchmarking pilot—65 percent of which are TE members—included Inditex, H&M and Puma.

7. Bamboo and Plantains Could Be Turned Into Textiles in Sri Lanka
In September, Sri Lanka’s official government news portal revealed that the Southern Provincial Industries Ministry was seeking the assistance and cooperation of Ruhana University’s Faculty of Agriculture to produce textiles using fiber taken from bamboo and plantain trees.

As the world’s fastest growing plant, bamboo can help restore degraded lands, while plantains are already plentiful. So, rather than importing massive amounts of raw materials—mostly from India—to meet the demands of Sri Lanka’s growing apparel industry, the government instead wants to harness the power of its natural resources and differentiate its offering from the rest of the Southeast Asian market.

8. Patagonia Hits Key Milestones in Environmental Activism
Every year, outdoor clothing company Patagonia dedicates 1 percent of its sales to the protection and restoration of the environment—regardless of the health of its sales or the economy—and in 2014 it donated $6.2 million to 741 local grassroots environmental groups in 18 countries. Since this program kicked off in 1985, the brand has given $70 million to more than 3,500 groups globally to help them promote sustainable agriculture, prevent extreme resource extraction, protect endangered wildlife and habitats and reduce the effects of climate change.

9. Adidas Has Greenest Textile Supply Chain in China
The Institute of Public & Environmental Affairs (IPE) and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) published a report titled “Greening the Global Supply Chain” in November in which it said that textiles—along with IT and the diversified industry category—are doing the most to mitigate their Chinese footprint.

After using the Corporate Information Transparency Index (CITI) to evaluate the supply chains of 167 brands, as well as the communication records from 1,607 suppliers that expressed relationships to 86 companies, the report found that Adidas, H&M, Levi’s, Marks & Spencer, Walmart and Esquel were among the top 10 highest-scoring firms.

10. Better Cotton Initiative Launches New Mark for Responsibly Sourced Product
The Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) in September launched a new mark for Better Cotton productions so that its member companies, including the likes of Nike, VF Corp., Marks & Spencer and Levi’s, can showcase their commitments to responsibly-grown cotton. For now, however, the mark will represent mass balance traceability and not imply that the product contains Better Cotton content.