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Overcoming Obstacles to Circularity and Carbon Reduction

Companies at every step in the supply chain are introducing aggressive targets to curb the environmental impact of fashion production. However, much of the responsibility for meeting these demands rests on upstream suppliers.

Raw materials account for the bulk of fashion goods’ carbon footprint totals. Because of this, fabric and fiber manufacturers are positioned to make a significant difference, but it also means that brands and retailers must rely on producers to meet their own targets. And sustainability goals are only rising. As an example of the escalating expectations that suppliers are up against, in 2018, the UN Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action set the benchmark at 30 percent carbon reduction by 2030. Just two years later, other organizations such as Textile Exchange and the Sustainable Apparel Coalition had raised their 2030 target for carbon to a 45 percent decrease.

In a recent discussion with Sourcing Journal founder and president Edward Hertzman, Sharon Chong, vice president of sustainability at man-made cellulosic fiber maker Sateri, explained why these emissions reductions are a “daunting task” for fabric and fiber suppliers, particularly in developing nations. Many of these operations currently rely on coal to power their plants. While switching to renewables is one answer to cutting back on carbon, the cost and available infrastructure to do so can thwart reaching targets.

Chong noted the need for a geographically specific approach to carbon reduction. For example, Sateri is using a science-based approach for decarbonization to reflect the local realities of its own China-based operations as it embarks on a journey to carbon neutrality by 2050. “This is definitely a more credible way of accounting and mitigating our impact and footprint,” said Chong.

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Along with carbon reduction, brands are focused on lowering their resource consumption during production through circular solutions. Sateri is responding with plans to grow the capacity for its closed-loop lyocell production, which recovers the used organic solvent. Last year, Sateri also introduced FINEX™, a viscose made of up to 20 percent recycled materials from pre- and post-consumer textile waste. Looking ahead, Sateri set a goal to create viscose with 50 percent recycled materials by 2023, and 100 percent by 2030.

One of the challenges within the industry is scaling circular solutions to a commercial level. “There are no lack of fiber innovations, but many of them have not gone beyond proof of concept,” said Chong. “If we are not able to commercialize it, scale it and make it affordable, all while meeting the quality that customers and consumers need, all these efforts will actually be in vain.”

To help “fill in the gaps,” Sateri is partnering with the China Association of Circular Economy to grow recycling capabilities. Sateri is also part of the RGE group of companies that has pledged $200 million toward fiber innovations.

Sateri’s investments in sustainability and circularity are part of its Vision 2030 introduced last year, which intends to position the company as the leading net-positive fiber maker. These goals combine Sateri’s longstanding “five C’s of business” with a more scientific approach to setting and measuring targets.

“Whatever we do must be good for the community, good for the country, good for the climate and good for the customers. Only then will it be good for the company,” said Chong.

Click the image above to watch the video to hear more about Sateri’s sustainability goals and how it is working with downstream partners to address their needs.