My top three 2017 sustainability stories

I am looking forward to seeing positive results and them gaining momentum in 2018


There have been lots of interesting sustainability stories this year, but three have risen to the top for me: the growth of ZDHC, microfibers contained in ocean plastics and how the apparel industry is addressing the circular economy

The rapid growth of Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals (ZDHC)

ZDHC started in 2011 after Greenpeace launched its DeTox campaign, which targets the apparel and footwear industry to eliminate 11 classes of hazardous chemicals from textile manufacturing by 2020.

The original membership consisted of 4 brands, but by the end of 2015, ZDHC had hired an executive director, established a firm strategy focused on managing input chemistry through their MRSL and developing waste water guidelines to ensure compliance to the MRSL.

2017 has seen enormous growth for ZDHC. Their tools, available on the ZDHC website, are used by many organizations within the industry. ZDHC trainers have been certified, training materials developed, and they recently launched a Chemical Gateway that houses chemical formulations that adhere to the MRSL.

At the end of 2017, ZDHC launched an Implementation Hub to accelerate the adoption of the ZDHC program. Earlier in 2017, ZDHC membership included 23 brands, 38 value chain affiliates and 14 associates. By the end of the year, that had changed considerably to over 200 members, which somewhat resembles the growth curve of the value of the bitcoin!

Ocean plastics – Apparel is contributing to the problem

Plastics polluting the ocean are not new news. NGO Plastic Oceans provides some startling facts about the issue. Almost every piece of manufactured plastic still exists today due to its persistence and inability to biodegrade in the environment.

There is increasing evidence that ocean plastics are causing a lot more harm than merely polluting pristine beaches; they are also breaking down into microplastics that are eaten by fishes and eventually end up in our food supply. Many of these plastics contain hazardous chemicals, which may be making their way into our food supply.

What gained significant momentum in 2017 is evidence that some of these micro plastics are actually coming from clothes, especially those made from synthetic fibers including polyester.

Many cosmetic companies have banned the use of microplastics in personal care products, but apparel brands are just beginning to address the issue. The Outdoor Industry Association is working on behalf of its members and focusing on three broad initiatives:

  • Generate awareness within the industry
  • Collaborate with experts to better understand the gaps
  • Assemble a catalogue of current research projects to fully understand the landscape and the issue.

This is an industry issue and needs to be solved by the industry and several different approaches need to come into play!

The circular economy

I am a  fan of the circular economy. It is a fantastic platform for innovation, is solutions-based and offers so many opportunities to generate more sustainable products.

The concept, which is based on zero-waste, is applicable to any industry and any problem. This includes small behavioral changes such as increasing consumer recycling rates, to large scale initiatives such as Zero Waste Scotland. Scotland is adopting circular models at the country level. Their plan includes reducing food waste, increasing recycling rates and changing consumer behavior.

I am particular impressed with some of the initiatives and innovative ideas sprouting in the apparel industry.

1.)    Increasing amounts of recycled fibers in apparel. Brands are demanding higher percentages of recycled polyester, nylon and cotton and the industry is responding. Unifi, Teijin and other manufacturers make polyester fiber from plastic water bottles and other waste streams.

2.)    Brands such as H&M, Levi Strauss and Co. and Patagonia are allowing consumers to return unwanted clothing to prevent it going to the landfill. The clothes are repurposed into something else, ideally of higher value.

3.)    Repairing clothes and then reselling them. The Renewal Workshop has created a new business model where it receives discarded or unsold apparel products and modifies them into new styles, which it then sells on its website.

4.)    Licensing or renting products. Coyuchi, an organic home furnishing company, launched Coyuchi for Life, a circular subscription program where consumers rent their sheets, duvets, and towels for a low monthly subscription price. When the lease is up, you pick out new sheets or towels and send back the old ones for recycling.

These sustainability stories are big enough that they can really have a positive impact in 2018 and beyond. Once the apparel industry has an action plan in place on how to address microfibers, great progress could be made. It will be interesting to check in this time next year.

How I can help your company

For help with any issue associated with sustainability and chemicals, contact Amanda Cattermole at (415) 412 8406 or Amanda@cattermoleconsulting.com. We can help you develop powerful solutions to protect your company and brand reputation, which will result in safer products manufactured in cleaner supply chains.

Tips and Insights contains information to help you make informed chemical management decisions. Each post highlights a particular topic and includes questions you may want to consider for your business.

Posted on: Jan 02, 2018 in circular economy, Current News, Trends

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