When you see a beautiful shirt on a fashion model or in a shop window, you ask yourself: shall I buy it? Can I afford it? But before deciding, there is another question to be answered: How much damage to the environment did the company cause in manufacturing the clothing?
The textile industry has a background of polluting water and causing deforestation when producing and using fabrics and leather. But over the last years, many companies have been changing their attitude to become more environment-friendly.
Greenpeace launched Detox Catwalk. Textile companies were asked to adopt and implement solutions to avoid using and releasing dangerous chemicals from their global supply chain and products by 1 January 2020.
“H&M, Nike, Adidas, Valentino, Levi's and Burberry are among the 36 major fashion and retailer brands that have already joined our campaign”, explains Chiara Campione, Fashion Duel Project Leader at Greenpeace Italy. “If these big names have taken the step, why should we expect less from all luxury fashion brands?”
One of the historical districts of the textile made in Italy, renowned worldwide, is the region of Biella, North-West Italy. The secret to the success of this industrial area has been the chemical properties of its waters and the presence of big falls ensuring enough energy for production cycles.
Here, at the Reda firm, founded in 1865, the finest merino wools are converted by the expert hands of local craftsmen into fabrics, some of which are worn by Hollywood stars. But this excellence is achieved while caring for the environment, for example by using water filtration systems and integrating renewable sources in the industrial process.
“It is not just a matter of ethics. Pursuing sustainability makes good business sense in terms of energy efficiency and reduced costs”, says Ercole Botto Poala, CEO of the company. The manufacturer has also achieved the Emas certification, an advanced system of eco-management.
At the end of 2015 Olimpias Group inaugurated Europe’s first water treatment plant capable of recovering up to 100% of the water processed in industrial production. The group is controlled by the Benetton family, European leaders in clothing and fabrics.
In the past this textile factory, located in Osijek, Croatia, used 1,600 m3/day of water of which only 10.5% came from recovery treatments. Today, thanks to the innovations introduced, this percentage has jumped to about 70%, or 1,000 m3/day.
Consequently, the use of the hyrdic resources from the well have been considerably reduced, with obvious environmental benefits and industrial cost reduction. To put this into perspective, a population of 7,000 uses the equivalent of 1,000m3 of water per day.
“By revolutionising the treatment of the processed water we can make significant savings in water and energy, and improve the finished product thanks to the higher quality of the reused water”, states Gianni Zanella, CEO of Olimpias Group, “We joined the European project Wasatex - Water Saving Process for Textiles - as part of a broader strategy that the company started years ago to support its eco-friendly supply chain. It began with the elimination from our processes of all chemicals which were harmful to the environment and health".
Furthermore the amount of CO2 reduced and energy saved is considerable. The purified water has, in fact, an average temperature of 30°C compared to the 15°C of the well water; hence less energy is required to heat the dyeing baths.
Another example of investments in higher energy efficiency for manufacturing processes is represented by Bossa, one of Turkey’s largest integrated textile corporations that produces denim fabrics and sportswear.
The company relies on research to limit its use of resources and energy consumption, and to preserve the environment. Some 15% of their products costs goes on energy. "We have found that the remaining 85% is subject to global trading prices on chemicals or on materials like fibres, and these costs are hard to compress. Therefore, focusing on energy consumption and the use of resources has turned out to be the first step in reducing costs", says Ozgur Demirel, a senior technical supervisor.
The company joined the European project REEMAIN (Resource and Energy Efficient Manufacturing), which examines solutions for a sensible use of renewable energy technologies and resource saving strategies.
By Chiara Cecchi
Photo credits: Noura Alswailem
20 June 2016