Textile Exchange has published the “Material Change Insights Report 2021,” showing that 78 percent of returning companies improved their Material Change Index (MCI) score, as participation in the MCI grew 53 percent–to 292 brands and retailers from 191–over the previous year.
In addition, the biodiversity benchmark attracted 157 companies in its first “beta” version. Measuring performance, the index average remained in Level 3 (Maturing), falling only slightly to 68.5 from 69.1, despite the arrival of 24 new companies. The range of scores spanned from 28.4 to 87.2 out of a possible 100 points.
“The last few years have taught us that right at the core of everything we do lies the need for humanity and a just transition that promotes cultural and intergenerational equity as we transition to a decarbonized, regenerative and circular economy,” Liesl Truscott, corporate benchmarking director at Textile Exchange, said. “Our hope is that the benchmark can capture the learnings and amplify the opportunities to move faster and at scale toward a better world.”
The Corporate Fiber & Materials Benchmark program is considered the largest peer-to-peer comparison initiative in the textile industry, generating the MCI among its benchmarks. It tracks the apparel, footwear and home textile sector’s progress toward more sustainable materials sourcing, as well as alignment with global efforts like the Sustainable Development Goals and the transition to a circular economy.
For the first time, the index reached 50 percent preferred materials use in 2021, up from 44 percent the previous year, the report revealed. Preferred cotton now represents 65 percent of overall cotton used by participating brands and recycled polyester jumped to 32 percent of polyester use compared to 21 percent the year before.
Covid-19 impacted participants’ sourcing patterns, meaning that overall consumption of materials was only 1.3 percent higher last year despite increased participation, yet preferred materials increased 15 percent.
The report said progress was made in the uptake of recycled inputs, which now represent 29 percent of synthetic fibers and 12 percent of materials overall. This growth in recycled was mainly in plastic packaging waste.
‘While in the short term the substitution of virgin polyester by recycled has merit, the push must continue from plastic packaging waste to textile-to-textile,” Textile Exchange said. “Our data shows that there was only a slight increase in the textile-to-textile share.”
Post-consumer textile waste is now at 1.49 percent of recycled inputs and 0.18 percent of textile use overall, as reported by participating brands.
Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions fell 5 percent last year, which reflects a saving of 1.9 million tons of CO2 equivalent emissions when compared to a conventional materials portfolio. This decline was influenced by the Covid-19 “low-growth” scenario, as well as from the conversion to preferred materials, particularly recycled polyester.
The MCI now represents more than 5 million hectares of cropland, grazing and forestry under improved practices, such as sustainability programs and certification. This was 1 million more hectares than last year, but still only 17 percent of the total land area from which land-based materials were sourced by Index participants in 2020.
Index results indicated that knowledge of country-of-origin was around 48 percent of materials sourced, with textile raw materials being traced back to 49 companies, dominated by India, China, Turkey, the U.S. and Pakistan.
“As the sourcing of recycled materials increases, origins and circumstances of “waste origins” (secondary inputs) will become more important for integrity and monitoring impact,” the report said.
The transition to a circular system has the potential to unlock “huge economic, social and environmental opportunities for brands willing to innovate and invest in new ways of doing business,” Textile Exchange said.
Textile Exchange spoke to 23 leaders about the future priorities they see for material sourcing and how the industry can prepare.
What they said was all materials will need to deliver sustainability benefits, and with a lot of the tools, resources and innovation needed already available, “it’s time to focus on action.”
Companies will also need to dematerialize and start decoupling value creation from the extraction of resources to create new products. Leaders called for more laws and controls to raise the minimum bar, leveling the playing field for brands and retailers that want to be better.
Sourcing experiences were polarized with half of the companies having experienced significant disruptions and cut back everywhere, while others doubled down on preferred materials or were resilient enough in their supply relationships to navigate the shocks. There was also a radical pivot to digital, from buying and selling platforms to innovation in 3D printing and the use of traceability tech.
“If we are to dramatically reduce the impacts of our textile world–that is, to make a material difference– we’ll need to think big and to implement change at scale,” Joel Makower, co-founder and chairman of Greenbiz Group, said in the report. “To do that, we need real-world data and insights that show how, and how well, the industry is transitioning to sustainable products and processes, from farm and field to factory and beyond. Textile Exchange is providing that critical evidence-based data that points the way to the changes we all want to see in the world.”
Textile Exchange noted that 2021 results marked the end of a three-year cycle, which means the methodology has remained consistent year-on-year, allowing for a clear trend analysis of how companies are doing against the benchmark framework. Over the next 18 months, the framework will be under revision, with the goal of increasing ambition, future-fitting and enhancing the program’s value proposition.
“We will also be aligning progress tracking more closely with the Sustainable Development Goals and working to coordinate with other important disclosure programs,” Textile Exchange added. “We aim to build a stronger emphasis on tracking progress toward impacts aligned with Textile Exchange’s Climate+ strategy, in line with our three core impact levers–materials, innovation and degrowth.”