The clothing and fashion industry is making progress in becoming more climate-friendly. According to a recent report, half of the materials used come from sustainable sources.
The Textile Exchange surveyed 292 companies to generate its Material Change Index (MCI) in 2021.
MCI is the largest peer-to-peer comparison in the textile industry. It tracks the clothing, footwear, and home textile sector’s advancement toward its global sustainability goals.
It measures the participants’ integration of sustainable materials into the production chain.
The Material Change Insights 2021 report highlighted that 50% of participants used preferred materials. This was an increase from 43% the prior year. Preferred materials are defined as those that result in improved environmental and/or social sustainability outcomes and impacts vs. conventional ones.
To achieve preferred status, a material must be part of a recognized industry standard, be trackable through the supply chain back to its origin, have been scientifically tested for its sustainability attributes, and/or show potential for circularity. Plant fibers and materials range from cotton to rubber. Animal fibers include cashmere, down, leather, and wool. Regenerative fibers are those that come from manmade cellulose. Synthetic fibers include polyamide and polyester.
Among the fibers, preferred cotton represented 65% of the overall cotton used by participating brands. Recycled polyester jumped to 32% of total polyester use.
“When we first launched the Corporate Fiber & Materials Benchmark (CFMB) program seven years ago, if a brand was using organic cotton or recycled polyester in a collection or two, that counted as leadership in materials sustainability,” said Liesl Truscott, corporate benchmarking director at the Textile Exchange, in the report’s foreword. “Today, this report sits in an altogether different context.”
She added that to be a leader these days, “a company must take a balanced and integrated approach to its raw materials strategy and look holistically at its risks and returns.”
The report also showed that recycled inputs represented 29% of synthetic fibers and 12% of materials. The increase in recycled materials came primarily from plastic packaging waste. Over the long haul, companies are pushed to transition from plastic packaging to textile-to-textile waste.
Surveyed companies reduced greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 5% last year, equivalent to 1.9 million tonnes of CO2.
While there were notable improvements, the report noted that more needs to be done. Twenty-three leading participants stated that using preferred materials won’t be optional in the future and that all materials need to be sustainable.
They also expressed an urgency to scale solutions and that it was time to focus on action. Companies will also need to dematerialize. This means decoupling value creation from the extraction of resources. In addition, more regulations, such as laws and controls, are needed.
Leading firms and brands include Adidas, Burberry, Deckers Brands, Gap, H&M Group, IKEA of Sweden, Levi Strauss & Co., Lindex, NIKE, PUMA, Patagonia, and Timberland. New entries to the list included ASICS, Desigual, J.Crew, MANGO, and Pentland Brands.
“We are living in a time when the majority are ready and willing to evolve, but we need to work together to enact truly pervasive change,” said Holly Syrett, impact programs and sustainability director at Global Fashion Agenda. “The global nature of our industry calls for alliances that will take us into a new era together, and we invite other organizations to contribute to this work in years to come.”