Sustainability in fashion is growing, but several other industries have been pioneering a push towards a circular economy, as well — and the fashion community may be able to take notes.
Across industries, companies are eschewing the idea of a traditional linear economy of “make-use-dispose,” in exchange for a more sustainable, circular one. In a circular economy, resources are kept in use for as long as possible to extract their maximum value, recovered through reuse and recycling, and regenerated to design out waste and pollution.
This shift is steadily growing. There is a still a long path ahead to adopting a truly circular economy overall, but many industries are already making a change.
In the apparel industry in particular, circularity has dominated conversations in board rooms, conference halls and the media. At DuPont Biomaterials, it’s been our key focus to create a systemic change across several industries — including fashion — ultimately reducing waste by creating bio-based, high-performance products that are more durable, are used longer and can be recycled at the end of their useful life.
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There’s been a slow but steady shift among the fashion community to focus on a more sustainable industry. Many members of the supply chain, from textiles manufacturers to designers, are already embracing a circular economy model, and the need is critical. In fact, according to the US EPA, textile waste occupies nearly 5 percent of all landfill space, and the average US citizen throws away 70 pounds of clothing and other textiles annually.
Consumers, however, are not adopting sustainable consumption at the same pace, so it’s up to industry leaders to create meaningful change by recycling and reusing materials, increasing the longevity of products, and sourcing bio-based materials such as Sorona® that are derived from nature and not only reduce dependence on fossil fuels, but also GHG emissions.
Collaboration is also pushing circular fashion forward. Many apparel brands are coming together through Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s Make Fashion Circular initiative, which was launched at the 2018 Copenhagen Fashion Summit. The initiative — championed by several notable brands, including Stella McCartney, PVH and Nike, among others — aims to address the fashion industry’s pollution and waste, and drive collaboration among key stakeholders to radically redesign its operating model towards a circular system.
Industries Making a Difference
Sustainability in fashion is consistently making headlines, but there are several other industries that have been pioneering a push towards a circular economy as well — and the fashion community may be able to take notes.
The food sector has an enormous opportunity to pivot towards a circular economy — helping to ensure that as a society, we are not consuming more resources than the Earth can provide. For example, food brands can close nutrient loops and foster regenerative agriculture by returning organic matter to the soil in the form of composted byproducts and food wastes. As a result of this practice, soil structure improves and carbon sequestration strengthens, reducing overall emissions. The food industry can also embrace urban and peri-urban agriculture, or growing food closer to its location of consumption, to reduce the carbon footprint caused by transportation and packaging.
For example, Lufa Farms — a Montreal food company pioneering urban farming — established the world’s first commercial rooftop hydroponic greenhouse in 2011. The company leveraged existing, unutilized roof space in urban environments to help feed growing cities. The farms’ cooling effect in summer and insulation effect in winter reduced building energy demands and attenuated flows into stormwater drains. Innovative solutions and out-of-the-box thinking of this kind could also prove successful for companies in the fashion industry.
Food companies are also seeing success through collaborating to achieve a circular food system. The EAT Foundation and World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) launched a program called Food Reform for Sustainability and Health (FReSH) that aims to drive change across food systems by taking into account local eating patterns and working with 200 global companies to deliver sustainable business solutions. Fashion brands should take the same cue to collaborate and help build a more circular apparel industry; and in fact, many already are through programs such as the Make Fashion Circular initiative.
Similar to the fashion industry, circularity in the tech industry can involve recycling parts from or refurbishing laptops, phones, and other devices to reduce waste and increase efficiencies. According to niche company Circular Computing, in the EU, 160 million laptops are manufactured annually, with 160,000 disposed of daily — yet 70 percent could be reused. This issue was a catalyst for the company, which focuses on reintegrating used parts into IT systems. The goal of circular computing is to create a more ethical, sustainable and socially responsible way to buy enterprise IT. To date, the initiative has prevented 3.6 tons of waste and 950 tons of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere. This focus on reusing and reintegrating materials into new products can be — and is — an integral part of the fashion industry’s shift towards a more sustainable and ultimately circular model.
Major brands are also leading circular economy programs, such as HP, which is increasingly incorporating recycled plastic into printers. The HP ENVY Photo All-in-One Printer series became the world’s first in-class printer made with closed-loop, recycled plastic — more than 10 percent by weight. Additionally, in 2017, the brand used plastic from bottles collected on streets and canals in Port-au-Prince, Haiti to create ink cartridges; and recently joined NextWave Plastics, a coalition of companies incorporating ocean-bound plastic into their supply chains.
As with many industries, there’s a great opportunity for tech brands to champion consumer education around circularity, and provide consumers with the information and resources necessary for repair and recycling options.
Through innovation and collaboration, all industries, from fashion to food to technology, can make significant change towards adopting a circular economy in the long term. DuPont Biomaterials — along with hundreds of other global brands — are joining forces via Circular Economy 100 (CE100), an innovation program bringing together companies, governments and cities, academic institutions, emerging innovators and affiliates to learn and collaborate around building the circular economy. This partnership of forward-thinking businesses from across a wide range of industries can truly make a difference and set a new standard for sustainability moving forward.