Study by Burton, New Balance, Patagonia, REI, Gore and the Outdoor Industry Association reveal major CO2, cost and energy savings with decarbonized heating processes.
Today, the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) and five members of OIA Climate Action Corps — Burton, New Balance, Patagonia, REI and Gore’s Fabrics Division — released a joint-commissioned study regarding the feasibility of opportunities for electrifying the textile and apparel industry, to save companies money and reduce supply chain emissions. Patagonia served as the main sponsor of the study, which OIA helped to facilitate.
“Our global supply chain is the source of most of our carbon emissions, so we must work with factory partners to transform how we make products and reduce the harm done in our name,” said Kim Drenner, Head of Supply Chain Environmental Impact at Patagonia. “We joined REI, New Balance, Gore and Burton to collaborate with the OIA on this study so the researchers were able to cover a diverse range of factories and stakeholders. This research is a step forward because it provides tangible, cost-effective ways for suppliers and brands to end their reliance on fossil fuels. We look forward to helping implement these improvements.”
The study explored the potential savings in energy, CO2 emissions and costs for electrification technology pathways for suppliers in China, Japan and Taiwan — all major hubs of global textile and apparel production. The findings demonstrate that shifting to industrial heat pumps can lead to substantial savings in all three areas, compared to conventional systems, and provides key recommendations for the textile industry and policymakers to scale up electrification to accelerate financial and environmental benefits — all contingent, of course, on the feasibility of greatly expanding renewable energy generation in the three countries.
“One of the biggest issues in reducing greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) in our apparel and textile supply chains is thermal energy — steam and hot water for heating processes in factories. Can we use something other than coal, natural gas or other fossil fuels? Our study demonstrates how there is an opportunity to decarbonize thermal heating processes in apparel and textile factories in a way that reduces emissions, energy and cost over time,” said Sarah Rykal, Senior Manager of OIA’s Climate Action Corps. “This is the first research of its kind; and we are thrilled to now be sharing these findings with suppliers in China, Japan and Taiwan to help increase sustainability on a broader scale. These results impact the entire fashion industry, not just the outdoor industry.”
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Burton, New Balance, Patagonia, REI, Gore and OIA worked with the industrial decarbonization consulting firm Global Efficiency Intelligence (GEI) to conduct the study. The research focused on the textile industry with a special focus on tier 2 factories (facilities where materials are produced and finished before going into finished products) in the three Asian countries and is applicable to other geographies.
"Electrification of process heating will play a vital role in the deep decarbonization of the textile industry and apparel supply chain when tied to renewable electricity. However, it seems like not many managers and engineers in the textile and apparel companies are aware of this huge opportunity. There is certainly a need for more work in this area," said Ali Hasanbeigi, PhD, Research Director at Global Efficiency Intelligence and lead researcher for this study.
Of course, electrification in and of itself isn’t a lower-carbon solution; particularly in countries whose grids haven’t been modernized to accommodate renewable energy (which is still most of the world). As the report acknowledges:
Industrial electrification has the potential to reduce CO2 emissions from the textile industry when the electricity grid is decarbonized enough; but the infrastructure and competing demands for renewable electricity resources pose challenges to realizing these reductions in China, Japan and Taiwan. Investing in the electricity grid and increasing the share of renewable energy in the power sector energy mix will help to accelerate industrial electrification and contribute to a reduction in CO2 emissions.
The report collaborators have hosted activities to inform stakeholders in the region of the research findings and empower them to adopt clean-heat processes, where available, that will reduce GHGs in the textile and apparel industry.
The Electrification study is the latest in a series of steps the industry is taking to mitigate the impacts of the climate crisis and support the OIA’s goal to become the world’s first climate-positive industry by 2030. OIA members including Columbia Sportswear and The North Face have made strides on the healthier materials front by eliminating the usual chemical suspects used to waterproof fabrics; and OIA Climate Action Corps members Klean Kanteen, MiiR, Stanley and YETI recently partnered to reduce emissions and establish science-based targets across their manufacturing supply chains.