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Why Holistic Thinking is necessary to reach sustainability goals

Green solutions to the world's energy, water, chemical use problems will only work if they are integrated parts of thoughtfully devised systems. It's not just that a system perspective is better than a narrower one for achieving sustainability goals. A narrow focus can actually backfire. Organic cotton vs conventional cotton can be used to illustrate why a holistic approach is better for achieving sustainability goals. And that a narrow focus where the whole lifecycle is not considered can actually backfire. For example,  a textile manufacturer's switch to organic cotton could fail if it was done without considering the entire system, crop yields, fiber properties, requiring chemicals and dyes in manufacturing that were worse for the environment than those used on conventional cotton. Just swapping one material, vendor, location, production step, or mode of transportation for another can, when you factor in the unintended consequences, end up raising financial, social, or environmental costs and lead to supply chains that are not sustainable. Companies up and down supply chains in numerous industries confront the same challenge: A well-intentioned individual action or demand aimed at making a business greener can create a long string of unanticipated consequences that collectively dwarf the benefits. [See Don’t Tweak Your Supply Chain—Rethink It End to End Harvard Business Review Oct 2010 http://hbr.org/2010/10/dont-tweak-your-supply-chain-rethink-it-end-to-end/ar/1 ]

Is this approach consistant with your thinking about making progress toward achieving your 'sustainability goals'?


Is Sustainability helping to shape the textile / apparel industry today?

There continues to be much written about how important sustainability and corporate social responsibility (CSR) are to all types of businesses. Many articles are written by certifying organizations or Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs). And these can be self-serving since all ‘green marketers’ are working to profit and grow and maybe, to make a difference. Even ‘green’ non-profit organizations have to eventually answer to someone to stay viable.Few if any of the articles deal directly with the textile and apparel industries.

So are CSR and sustainability helping to shape textile and apparel production and retailing or are they mostly sales and marketing tools? Do your customers ask you about your energy use, your water use, your carbon footprint, or whether you use chemicals on the various restricted chemical lists or flame retardants that are being band?  Do you ask your suppliers these questions? If so, what do you use as a meaningful basis for decisions?


The Sustainable Apparel Coalition, Apparel Index question

Question: TheSAC Apparel Index is meant to be a database of scores assigned to all the players in the life cycle of a garment. Are sound science, quantifiable data available to develop metrics for the environmental, social, and economic measures outlined?

Apparel Index/ Sustainable Apparel Coalition

On March 1, 2011 the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC) [http://www.apparelcoalition.org/about_us ], which includes Nike and Levi's among the nearly 30 manufacturers and retailers as well as non-profits, academics and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), announced that have created an industry-wide index to evaluate apparel products' environmental impact. The Apparel Index is meant to be a database of scores assigned to all the players in the life cycle of a garment - cotton growers, synthetic fabric makers, dye suppliers, textile mill owners, as well as packagers, shippers, retailers and consumers - based on a variety of social and environmental measures like water and land use, energy efficiency, waste production, chemical use, greenhouse gases and labor practices. A clothing company designer could then use the tool to select materials and suppliers, computing an overall sustainability score based on industry standards. The Apparel Index will draws on previous efforts by members, including the Outdoor Industry Association's Eco Index [www.outdoorindustry.org ] and Nike's Environmental Apparel Design [http://www.environmentalleader.com/2010/11/30/nike-releases-environmental-apparel-design-tool/ ] , unveiled late last year. The Index aims to reduce the environmental and social impacts of apparel products sold around the world.

SAC members have already drawn up Version 1.0 of their Apparel Index, with beta testing by members and their suppliers due to begin in April. Version 1.0 uses indicators that span the entire apparel life cycle, including materials, manufacturing, packaging, transportation, use and end of life. Its environmental impact categories include energy, greenhouse gases, water quality, water use, chemistry and toxics, waste, land use and air emissions. The Apparel Index will not be a consumer-facing rating in the short term, because of the complexity of calculating a single numeric score, but instead, it will be used to drive improvements. The index will be developed with the expectation that customer-facing scoring will be used in the future, and it will be fully transparent to encourage broad, global adoption.


USDA Aims to Simplify Measurement of Greenhouse Gases in Farming

USDA  is soliciting comments on how to best design methods for measuring greenhouse gas sources and sinks in the agriculture and forestry sectors [ notice published Feb. 18, 2011  in the Federal Register. The USDA notice on methodologies for quantifying greenhouse gas emissions and carbon sequestration from agriculture and forestry is available at http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2011-02-18/pdf/2011-3667.pdf.]The guidelines are intended to be clear enough that they can easily be used by farmers looking to reduce their GHG  emissions, and will incorporate elements of existing methods and guidelines. USDA expects to complete the project within three years. Carbon sinks are natural systems that suck up and store carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The guidelines being developed by USDA will be used within USDA and by farmers, ranchers, and forest land owners and will be made publicly available. To ensure the project deliverables are of benefit to the widest possible set of stakeholders,  the process of developing the guidelines, methods, and reporting tools will emphasize scientific rigor, transparency, internal consistency, and reducing uncertainty. The notice emphasized USDA is seeking comments on how it may “best improve upon existing GHG  estimation guidelines for the agriculture and forestry sectors, while at the same time simplifying the input requirements and enhancing the ease of use for individuals and entities. The guidelines will seek to offer emissions calculation methodologies, emissions reduction techniques, and ways to increase carbon sequestration for a wide range of agricultural activities including soil management.

This should be helpful to cotton farmers to have a way approved by a government body to show how much reduction in GHGs they are getting on their farm.


Is sustainabilty helping to shape business?

Advertising Age named sustainability one of the “ jargon” words of 2010. Misuse is made easy due to the lack of a universally agreed upon definition.  The difficulty in coming up with a shared definition is complicated by the fact that sustainability applies to a multitude of dynamically interrelated issues — environmental, economic, and social. The most popular definition of sustainability came out of the Brundtland Commission (formally known as the World Commission on Environment and Development) of the United Nations General Assembly on March 20, 1987. The Brundtland definition is criticized as being too vague and not providing a guide for how sustainability can become “operational.” In addition, there is no one regulating the “environmentally-friendly” steps that many companies claim they are taking.

However, used properly (i.e., based on validated improvements and not ‘greenwash’), ‘more sustainable’  describes practices through which the global economy can grow. Today it appears there are many articles indicating that sustainability is helping to shape business. Companies used to shy away from setting public performance targets. But two key changes have occurred. First, sustainability has become a topic on the Board's agenda. Second, it is now more widely understood that becoming ‘more sustainable’ can spark innovation that delivers a competitive advantage--it is not simply a risk mitigation exercise. These changes have led companies like Walmart and Levi as well as many others to link their companies' reputations to their sustainability performance.

Is this what your company is experiencing? Do you expect this of your suppliers and do your customers expect this of you?


Fair Trade certified apparel and home textiles products [First ethical fashion certification label]

Fair Trade USA [formally TransFair USA], the third-party certifier of Fair Trade Certified™ products in the US, on Nov. 17, 2009 extended the "Fair Trade lifestyle" into cotton clothing, bed and bath products. [The pilot standard is published on Fair Trade USA's Web site at http://transfairusa.org/content/certification/apparel_program.php  . The new standard extends strong labor protections based on International Labour Organization (ILO) Conventions to garment workers in factories and sewing cooperatives. It builds on the success of Fair Trade at the farm level and follows extensive research and collaboration with garment workers, factory managers, non-governmental organization (NGO) advocates, companies and consumers. Fair Trade certification for Apparel and Linens is a social, economic and environmental standard that directly benefits the farmers who grow the cotton and the workers who sew the garments. It offers companies and consumers an unprecedented opportunity to positively impact the lives of these farmers and workers. On 1 Dec 2010, the first Fair Trade certified apparel and home textiles products were launched in the US as part of a two-year pilot test. The Fair Trade Certified label is intended to make it easy for American consumers to walk into a store and choose an ethical garment. The scheme builds on the success of Fair Trade at the farm level, where Fair Trade certified products span more than 20 categories. Garments include graphic tees by Project Runway's Korto Momolu and Bacca da Silva from Liberty & Justice, boxers and organic women's undies from Good & Fair, and tees from sustainability pioneer PrAna. All have been produced by manufacturing facilities and cooperatives in Costa Rica, India and Liberia. More lines, sourced from India, Liberia and Peru, will be launched in spring 2011. With the Fair Trade Certified label [ http://www.transfairusa.org/ ], consumers can now be confident that cotton farmers and factory workers earn more and have safe working conditions, the environment was protected, and the people who made the high-quality product can look forward to brighter futures. Factory workers receive direct economic benefits through a Fair Trade premium, between 1% and 10% of the cost of the garment, potentially doubling their earnings on a per-product basis. And cotton farmers receive a guaranteed minimum price to protect them from price fluctuations as well as community investment premiums on every pound of cotton. 

Responsible Sourcing for the Textile Industry -- Revolutionizing the Textile Supply Chain with Market-Based Strategies that Reduce Pollution and Improve Efficiency

Textile manufacturing has a huge environmental footprint. It can pollute large amounts of water per ton of fabric, uses many harmful chemicals, and consumes tremendous amounts of energy in dyeing and finishing processes. Compounding this situation is that the textile industry has migrated to countries abroad with still-developing environmental regulatory systems, e.g.,  China, India, Vietnam, and Bangladesh, seriously degrading local drinking water resources.  

The National Resources Defense Council's (‘NRDC', a nonprofit environmental protection organization) team of health experts has pioneered market-based approaches that could help improve global industrial pollution problems associated with apparel while improving the bottom line. NRDC and its partners in ‘Clean by Design' (
http://www.nrdc.org/international/cleanbydesign/default.asp ) recommend 10 practical, easy-to-implement best practices for textile mills  (http://www.nrdc.org/international/cleanbydesign/files/rsifullguide.pdf ) that significantly reduce water, energy or chemical use and improve manufacturing efficiency. Multinational apparel retailers and brands can reduce the footprint of their global supply chain by encouraging mills to adopt these best practices and rewarding those that do so with more business.  

The NRDC and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. have made a formal commitment to the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) to actively engage with textile suppliers in China to reduce their environmental footprint under NRDC's Clean by Design project.  Also in a separate move, H&M reached a similar agreement with the NRDC to implement best practices under the Clean by Design project.  The sheer size of the textile industry in China and its environmental impact prompted the NRDC to launch the Responsible Sourcing Initiative in 2008  (
http://www.nrdc.org/international/cleanbydesign/default.asp ) as part of the larger Clean by Design effort,which drew major apparel industry players, including Wal-Mart, H&M, Levi Strauss & Co., Gap Inc., Nike Inc. and Li & Fung Ltd.   


Modern cotton harvesting and ginning and seed cotton storage

Cotton is a rapidly renewable natural agricultural product. Seed cotton is a perishable commodity that has no real value until the fiber is separated from the seed. Ginning is considered part of the harvest because that is where the fiber and seed are separated. Fiber and seed then go downstream for processing into textiles and human and animal feed products.

Historically, hand harvesting has been the method of harvest and still is in most of the world outside of the U.S.A. and Australia. Whether cotton is mechanically or hand harvested, handling and storage of seed cotton is especially important, if fiber and seed quality are to be maintained.

In the 21st century cotton production will need to be more efficient with significant improvement in both yields and fiber quality for cotton to continue to be the important textile fiber it is today. To accomplish this harvest preparation, mechanical harvesting, and ginning will most likely all have to continue to evolve. Harvest preparation will become more important and increasingly more cotton will be mechanically harvested. Pressures on the world cotton industry will be more and more towards mechanical harvesting as labor becomes more expensive and land ownership changes. Mechanical harvesting and ginning as it is done in the U.S.A. and Australia produces some of the cleanest, most trash -free cotton produced in the world, according to ITMF surveys.

The world model for harvesting and ginning will very likely grow to resemble the U.S.A. model more closely with modifications due to local economic or cultural influences. Cotton Incorporated has recently put important information on harvesting and ginning on its website (http://www.cottoninc.com/ ; August 2010) under ‘Resources', information on ‘Cotton Harvest Systems'. For up-to-date specific information on U.S.A. practices for mechanical (both spindle-picked and stripper) harvesting of cotton and handling and storage of seed cotton, see http://www.cottoninc.com/Cotton-Harvest-Systems/ (accessible August 2010). This information was compiled by Edward M. Barnes, Ph.D., Director, Agricultural Research, Cotton Incorporated (email: ebarnes@cottoninc.com ) with help from many USDA and University research and extension people.

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