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ESG Outlook: Renee Henze of DuPont Biomaterials, Sorona on Bio-Based Ingredients

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, Renee Henze, global marketing and commercial development director of DuPont Biomaterials, Sorona, discusses how sustainable fashion made from biomaterials can perform just as well, if not higher, than fashion made with traditional petro-based materials.

Name: Renee Henze

Title: Global Marketing & Commercial Development Director

Renee Henze Dupont Sorona
Renee Henze, global marketing and commercial development director of DuPont Biomaterials, Sorona Courtesy

What do you consider to be your company’s best ESG-related achievement?

Our Common Thread Fabric Certification Program. The program has testing requirements to ensure that fabrics passing certification contain a minimum content of bio-based Sorona® and high-quality performance characteristics. Not only does this allow for greater peace of mind for our customers, but it also ensures that fabrics are incorporating bio-based ingredients instead of petro-based ones.

How do you try to minimize the environmental impact of the clothes/consumer products you buy?  

Buy less, buy better, buy used and buy only those with demonstrated sustainability initiatives.

For clothing, as noted above, it means buying well-made clothes that last years, not just one season. It means shopping in great consignment shops locally or online. For consumer products, it’s buying things with minimal packaging or packaging that can be easily degraded or recycled. We buy several things through Loop, which allows you to send back the used packaging for it to be used again. We make carbonated water using a Soda Stream with reusable glass bottles instead of buying plastic bottles with carbonated water. We always use refillable water bottles, reusable produce bags, reusable grocery bags, reusable storage bags and containers for cheese and other items.

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

I do this almost every time I look to purchase an item. For fashion, it’s much easier now to find items that are making demonstrated social and environmental progress; even if that means substituting the originally intended purchase with another. For other items, such as home goods, it’s still more of a challenge.

We recently moved to a new home, and I’ve been looking for different items such as furniture, cabinetry and outdoor seating. All these items require a lot of searching to find those that have demonstrated sustainability practices and materials. They do exist (Etsy has great finds for local, handmade artisan furniture) but as a consumer you have to really do your homework and a lot of digging online to find them.

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

One, that items using sustainable materials are not as high performing and that people will have to sacrifice performance for sustainability. Two, that sustainable materials, such as those based on bio-based feedstocks, are in competition with food sources.

Through the successful commercialization and adoption by major brands of bio-based Sorona®, we’ve demonstrated that more sustainable fashion can be even higher performing than the petro-based, traditional materials. We also regularly have conversations within the community of fashion and bio-economy through leaders around the sustainability of feedstocks, sources, sustainable agriculture practices and LCA advancements.

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

That the industry needs to accelerate its drive towards a more sustainable supply chain and circular economy practices. To do so, it will require all participants in that chain to work together and adopt more sustainable measures.

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

We’re about to launch a program related to sustainability around our renewable carbon feedstock. More info to come!

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

As with many profit-driven companies, the industry is risk-averse to making changes that, while progressing sustainability, may mean accepting lower margins for the near to medium term.  There are dozens of different sustainability initiatives—from raw materials to finishes to end of life activity—that require either investment or acceptance of price increases. Yet until there are price disadvantages, tariffs or regulatory hurdles put in place around the continued use of petro-based ingredients, many in the industry won’t implement meaningful changes towards sustainable products or business models.