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ESG Outlook: Carlo Centonze of HeiQ on Climate-Positive Cellulosic Yarn

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, Carlo Centonze, co-founder and CEO of HeiQ Group, believes innovation is the only way forward for a sustainable economy.

Carlo Centonze HeiQ Group
Carlo Centonze, Co-founder and CEO, HeiQ Group. © 2021: Michael Buholzer fŸr Bilanz

Name: Carlo Centonze

Title: Co-Founder and CEO

Company: HeiQ Group

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

The list is long! Because of everything we do, all our innovations have sustainability at the core. HeiQ’s mission is to improve the lives of billions of people by perfecting everyday textiles and materials. Innovation, we believe, is the only way forward for a sustainable economy. And on that note, we’ve taken it all even a step further into circularity with the launch of our new HeiQ AeoniQ climate-positive, cellulose yarn.

What is your personal philosophy on shopping and caring for your clothes?

Being the co-founder and CEO of a leading textile innovator, obviously I am particularly attentive to sustainability in everything textile related. Prior to HeiQ, I was the co-founder of the carbon certificate pioneer NGO ‘Myclimate.’ Therefore, my lifestyle very much reflects my being mindful of the environmental impact I create. I buy functional, high-quality clothes from brands I can trust, get them mended when needed and keep them for long.

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

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As we collaborate with some of the world’s leading sustainability driven brands, it is part of my daily life to closely examine the social and environmental practices of the brands I both shop for as well as do business with. I do also make every effort to buy from local brands and encourage local markets as shipping across the globe also contributes to our environmental footprint. Some brands—for example our long-term Innovation Partner Patagonia—stand out by being, to their last employee, authentically sustainable.

Anything new you are doing to boost sustainability beyond the fashion industry?

As an advanced technology company in specialty chemicals and industrial biotechnology we are convinced that biopolymers and microrganisms will be part of the solution to save and preserve our current ecosystem for future generations. We are proactive in our efforts as exemplified by our recent acquisitions of HeiQ Chrisal and HeiQ RAS.

The outcome of one such acquisition is HeiQ Synbio, a patented technology which is a unique balance of probiotic bacteria and prebiotics which combine to create greener, more effective cleaning and care products. In hospitals, we have been able to reduce the bacterial resistance development leading to multi-resistant bugs by up to 90 percent and reduce the costs of related healthcare by up to 50 percent, saving human life with living organisms.

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

A clear misconception is that sustainable fashion is expensive. However, what consumers don’t get is the fact that they play a big role in contributing to sustainable fashion—i.e., less washing, less buying, less ironing, in general reducing the expenditure of energy. For HeiQ, the future is unquestionably oriented towards continuing our pursuit of eco-friendly technologies. We help to extend the lifetime and application area of everyday products by adding functionalities and preserving them from degradation and enabling reduced washing which equates to less water, less energy, lower detergent consumption. As a functional ingredient technology provider, what we do is not only to be good ourselves, but to enable all others to be good, from mills to brands to consumers.

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

We were in the position of being able to help alleviate the spread of the pandemic by contributing to all the protective measures being implemented worldwide with our tried, tested and trusted HeiQ Viroblock technology. As a matter of fact, we are undisputedly the market leader in textile antiviral technology—we also were the first company to develop antiviral textile technology long before others joined into support. Fifteen months into the pandemic, people want to know “what’s next?”

Consumers want reassurance, manufacturers desire longevity of antiviral textiles, and our job is to inspire them with the knowledge that the fabric they provide serves the “longer term” hygiene requirements that people have now come to expect.

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

HeiQ AeoniQ—or the holy grail of eternal circularity! We have just announced the arrival of a new climate-positive cellulosic yarn that will be a game changer for the textile industry and has all the potential for heralding a new textile industrial revolution.

HeiQ AeoniQ yarns (Aeon: striving for eternal circularity) are made from cellulosic biopolymers that during growth bind carbon from the atmosphere while generating oxygen. This high-performance yarn is positioned to substitute polyester and nylon filament yarns. Further, when compared to conventional cellulosic products, HeiQ AeoniQ yarns do not draw on arable land, pesticides or fertilizer in their production, are designed for cradle-to-cradle circularity and can be recycled repeatedly while maintaining consistent fiber quality.

The manufacturing process is expected to consume 99 percent less water than cotton yarns and HeiQ AeoniQ is designed to offer comparable performance properties to polyester, nylon and conventional regenerated cellulose yarns.

What is the apparel industry’s biggest missed opportunity related to securing meaningful change?

Maybe we should concentrate on the future and not seek out what all was wrong in the past. We face uncertain times; it is more important than ever to strengthen competitiveness and productivity and to promote innovation. It is up to each and every one of us to put our heart and soul into ensuring that we remain innovative, and I would say we need to work together to make the future better.