By Michael Rothenborg, November 2017
The textile industry is the world’s second most polluting industry after oil, the second biggest water consumer after farming, and it uses around 25% of the world’s chemicals.
These figures from the UN, Huffington Post and other sources indicate that if the world is to achieve both economic growth and sustainable development, we have to reduce our ecological footprint by changing the way we produce and consume goods and resources.
According to the UN, important milestones for reaching this goal are more efficient natural resource management, better disposal of pollutants and a reduction in the use of chemicals. Industries, businesses and consumers can also be encouraged to recycle and reduce waste as well as to generate energy from it.
Design for sustainability
Global Director of Sustainability Services at Ramboll Environment & Health Lisa Grice emphasises that cost-efficient sustainability is possible.
“The cost of resource inefficiency is often in collateral rather than direct resource costs,” she points out.
“Water, for example, often has a low direct cost to users. However, factor in the associated costs of wastewater discharge, discharge permits, water treatment chemicals, labour and the energy used to convey, treat, heat or cool water, and the costs of conserving this precious resource quickly become material. And this is even before the benefits to local communities and natural ecosystems are considered.”
She adds that Ramboll now has clients who are working to ‘design for sustainability’, which includes designing products whose input materials originate from previously used products and which, at the end of their lives, can become part of new products.
“Thus, the product and its components become resources in a cradle-to-cradle way of thinking,” Lisa Grice says.
Greening the textile industry
Ramboll has done a study for the Nordic Council of Ministers to examine what happens to used textiles collected for recycling. The study involved the first-ever mapping of used Nordic textiles, and investigated the effects of textile exports on the environment, waste management, employment and other aspects of the local economy in recipient countries.
Together with the International Solid Waste Association (ISWA), Ramboll has also helped the global clothing brand G-Star RAW to become more sustainable. In the project G-Star manufacturers and designers agreed to five future commitments, and waste managers supported these with five recommendations for manufacturers looking to join the circular economy.