We’re all aware we need to economize Earth´s resources and cut down on the harmful chemicals we release into the environment. We constantly hear the importance of developing alternative fuel resources and vehicles which consume less gas.
And while we may be some way off from reaching peak oil, there are other resources that are fast becoming a rare commodity.
Fostering sustainable practices throughout the product lifecycle, from raw-materials sourcing and supply chain to manufacture and retirement, is one of the best ways to ensure a lead over your competitors.
Let’s take the garment industry as an example. While we may currently be experiencing a global cotton glut due to slower global economic growth, many experts agree we’re on the brink of reaching “peak cotton” production. This will be followed by an inevitable decline in the raw material as demand grows and material standards tighten.
In Sweden, where I live, consumption of textiles has increased by 40 percent since 2000 and this has led some Swedish clothing manufacturers—such as H&M, and Lindex—to invest more heavily in sustainability.
The way cotton is farmed, processed, and recycled are all factors in building a sustainable product lifecycle. The culturing of cotton, for instance, has a huge impact on the environment since it demands large amounts of water, land, energy and chemicals. According to WWF research, it takes an average of 8,500 liters of water to grow one kilo of cotton lint – enough to make one pair of jeans.
Recycling is another way to cap the shortage of cotton and provide a more sustainable future with less distress on agricultural land.
Research labs around Sweden are looking into new ways to recycle cotton. Gunnar Henriksson, professor at KTH, Swedish Royal Institute of Technology, strongly believes we’ve reached our cotton peak and can no longer match growing global demand.
Henriksson and his team are pioneering a new way of recycling textile fibers through a three-step process which first shreds used clothes, then uses a chemical process to dissolve the fibers into a liquid, separating the cotton and viscose. Finally, the clean liquid is treated in a second chemical stage and spun into a new viscose fiber through the traditional viscose process.
Henriksson and his team hope their research will help manufactures take a fresh look at how they source and reuse materials.
H&M and Lindex are two of many manufacturers changing the way they conceptualize the product lifecycle, putting greater emphasis on recycling and sustainability. H&M hopes that all its cotton will come from more sustainable resources, no later than 2020. The company also considers recycling as a great potential for future resource savings.
Outside of the garments industry, IKEA, another Swedish company, has a strategy called People & Planet Positive which helps use resources more efficiently. Many other industries across the globe are following suit.
As consumers become savvier about the environment, companies must strive to develop sustainable processes and products which reflect consumer needs and ideals. “Green” companies will inevitably push to the front of the pack, gaining credibility and competitive advantage.
Do you think sustainability should be a top priority for today’s manufactures?