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Walking the Talk
Apparel, Textile Industry Giants Unite Around SDGs at 2017 Textile Sustainability Conference

Big news has been rolling out of the Textile Exchange 2017 Textile Sustainability Conference near Washington, D.C. this week, providing evidence of the major paradigm shift taking place in the apparel and textile industry.

Centered around the theme, “United by Action: Catalyzing the Sustainable Development Goals in Textiles,” this year’s conference sees more than 500 textile and apparel leaders come together to discuss the most important sustainability issues facing the industry and developing a roadmap to 2030.

In addition to announcing its newly approved associate membership to ISEAL, the global membership association for sustainability standards, Textile Exchange (TE), a global nonprofit focused on reducing the environmental and social impacts of the textile industry, released its largest preferred fibers report ever, with 95 companies reporting. This marks a 14 percent increase in participating companies over 2016’s report and a 76 percent increase since 2015.

The report’s findings, which are based on the disclosure of actual consumption data through Textile Exchange’s Preferred Fiber Benchmark, highlighted a shift towards preferred fibers across participating companies. In particular, the findings recognize growth in the usage of recycled polyester (58 percent), lyocell (128 percent) and Preferred down (54 percent), the majority of which is certified to TE’s Responsible Down Standard. Organic and other preferred cottons now represent 47 percent of total cotton usage. The report also noted a shift towards more diverse portfolio mixes of fibers and a ramping up of efforts to mobilize and gear up for circularity.

The report’s impact data also shows that adoption of preferred fibers and materials can advance many of the SDGs, in particular SDG12, which focuses on responsible consumption and production. This is consistent with the report’s findings that nearly 30 percent of reporting companies said they were aligning corporate strategies to the SDGs.

Textile Exchange also shared that the language, content and best practices of its Responsible Wool Standard (RWS) will be used by two key Argentinian organizations as a basis for the outreach to and training of regional farmers. This represents the first time TE and its RWS are being recognized at a national to facilitate the adoption of improved sustainability practices.

The collaboration, which involves ProLana — a state-run national program that aims to help Argentine wool growers to improve quality, presentation and sale conditions — and the Federación Lanera Argentina — the national guild representing the interests of scourers, top makers and exporters — will see Argentina adapt its language and protocols to reflect the wording and intent of the RWS, train potential farmers and put a specific emphasis on shearing practices by 2018.

The government and guild will focus on alignment with RWS criteria and will provide support to facilitate certification to the RWS.

The public sector wasn’t the only area in which Textile Exchange’s efforts were focused. During the Textile Sustainability Conference, more than 45 major textile, apparel and retail companies, including adidas, Dibella, EILEEN FISHER, Gap Inc., H&M, Lindex, Target and Timberland, pledged to increase their use of recycled polyester (rPET) by at least 25 percent by 2020.

According to the 2017 Preferred Fiber Market Report, participant rPET usage is current 47,407 mt. A 25 percent increase by 2020 has the potential to divert 2,868,000,000 bottles from landfill, reduce human toxicity by 35,329,509 kg, save 1,849,464 MJ on primary energy demand and reduce CO2 by 122,823 kg.

Textile Exchange and the rPET Working Group believe that supporting, on a pre-competitive basis, investment in further developing rPET production around the globe, will lead to more efficient supply chains and increase the availability of more sustainable fiber choices in the market.

Organized by TE’s Recycled Polyester Working Group, the commitment will be tracked via participation in the Polyester Module of Textile Exchange’s Preferred Fiber and Materials Benchmark Survey. In addition to driving rPET availability and production efficiencies, the Working Group will work to identify and support more sustainable practices under SDG 12.

Another major announcement from the conference: Even more top brands have signed on to the sustainable cotton cause. Twenty-three of the world’s biggest clothing and companies, including Burberry, adidas, Kathmandu and Timberland pledged to use 100 percent sustainable cotton by 2025 during the Textile Exchange Sustainability Conference.

Thirty-six major brands and retailers, which also include ASOS, Eileen Fisher, H&M, IKEA, Kering, Levi’s, M&S and Nike have now signed up to the 100% by 2025 pledge. Dubbed the Sustainable Cotton Communiqué, the pledge demonstrates that there is a demand for more sustainable cotton and the commitment made by companies will help to drive sustainable practices across the sector. In turn, this will help alleviate the environmental and social costs that are often associated with conventional cotton production, including heavy pesticide usage, the release of greenhouse gases, the depletion of local water resources and rising costs of production.

“The industry is awakening to the necessity of sustainably grown cotton. It is great to see additional brands joining this initiative to accelerate the momentum of cotton production in a way that will positively impact smallholder farmers, water quality and soil health,” said La Rhea Pepper, Managing Director of Textile Exchange.

There have been substantial gains over the past few years in scaling the production of more sustainable forms of cotton, which is now higher than ever at over three million tons in 2016. However, companies are actively sourcing less than a fifth of this available sustainable cotton. In order for sustainable cotton to become standard business practice, the amount of sustainable cotton grown and bought must increase significantly. This pledge sends a signal to producers that there is a real demand for a more sustainable approach to cotton production.

“At Timberland, we strive to be Earthkeepers in everything we do and we recognize sustainable cotton sourcing as a major part of that goal,” said Zachary Angelini, Environmental Stewardship Manager at Timberland. "Studies have shown the social benefits to farming communities as well as the potential for these practices to sequester carbon into the soil. This is exciting work as we move beyond just minimizing environmental impacts to strategically creating real environment and social benefits within the supply chain."