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ESG Outlook: Spinnova’s Shahriare Mahmood on Raw Material Alternatives

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, Shahriare Mahmood, director of sustainability at Finnish fiber company Spinnova Ltd., discusses reducing chemical usage and cleaning up wet processing.

Name: Shahriare Mahmood

Title: Director of sustainability

Shahriare Mahmood Spinnova
Shahriare Mahmood, director of sustainability, Spinnova

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

We are a relatively young company, but our ambition for the betterment of sustainability for the industry is high. Spinnova started with the mission to provide the textile industry with the most sustainable fiber in the world. This unique, patented technology is inspired by how spiders weave their webs. The mechanical way of producing fiber from the cellulose not only saves valuable natural resources, but facilitates the industry with drop-in product for minimal footprint in subsequent processing stages.

Our own process uses almost no water and has minimal emissions and doesn’t require harmful dissolving chemicals. We refine the raw pulp used for papermaking mechanically with greater yield. The fully circular fiber not only recyclable on its own but also when blended with cellulosic fiber, without lessening the properties.

As a part of greater responsibility on transparency, we are developing an end-to-end data management system. We source FSC-certified raw materials, and our plan is to take it even further downstream. We have joined ZDHC [Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals] to further reduce the environmental impact and work together with the global community. Further, to reduce the impact of textile processing, we have successfully produced dyed fiber. We are continuing our work on this, but it has the potential to considerably reduce consumption and pollution.

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

Responsible consumption is key, and I prefer brands that take responsibility for their supply chain and are transparent about their social and environmental sustainability. Due to my expertise and experience in textile processes, especially wet processing, I consider if the product is chemically safe. Lengthening the life of a product is important in reducing raw material consumption, and responsible disposal is equally important as it could be the source for future products. I always prefer products made without blends. I strongly believe that recycling technology for different fibers will be readily available soon, where mono-materials will be facile.

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

Sustainability is an umbrella term which encompasses many issues, with the word spreading ubiquitously in recent years. It’s a good thing that many are getting acquainted with it, but there isn’t enough clarification on product sustainability claims. Consumers are often confused as truly sustainable brands are claiming product sustainability while some others are greenwashing. Some brands are taking unfair advantage, but often it is a lack of expertise on defining sustainability. Unfortunately, there is no industry-wide consensus on the topic. It is important that true sustainability professionals educate and influence, as well as grow consensus among themselves.

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

We were fortunate to work normally during the pandemic. Our partners remained interested in us due to our strong sustainability focus our unique innovation. Interestingly, the focus on sustainability is incremental even with the economic challenges. We have learned that true sustainable innovation is valued by the industry if it can offer a long-term benefit. We have put a lot of effort into product innovation, focusing toward commercialization that offers the industry a beneficial sustainable solution.

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

We know that the textile industry is responsible for significant waste generation, especially during the manufacturing processes. Wet processes specifically have severe environmental impact, and we are focusing on possibilities to make color an inherent part of the fiber. We are also making ourselves future ready for corporate sustainability.

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

We have probably reached the peak in terms of using natural resources. The industry should look for some larger-scale initiative to reach a meaningful consensus. We need alternative and renewable sources for raw materials. The pandemic has provided us the food for thought to see deeply and review what we really need. If that is the future, we need to adopt timelessness, durability and circularity.