On Tuesday May 12th Anitta Toma, our Lead Analyst and Researcher here at Green Story took us through a virtual presentation outlining sustainable supply chains and our favourite preferred fibres as part of our webinar series The New Normal.
With the fashion industry essentially at a standstill, and consumers faced with an onslaught of free time to reflect on pre-COVID societal norms, fashion has not been spared in questioning the ways of mindless consumption. Many consumers are shifting to more mindful shopping habits, a trend that we all hope will be around post-COVID. Whether you’re already a sustainable brand wanting to improve, or just starting out on your journey to sustainability, Anitta outlined the key factors to identify within your supply chain in order to make a tangible difference. We covered how it’s possible to identify your impact and make changes suitable for every business size and capacity, where to start when considering those changes and the fibers that give brands the most impressive reduction in their impact.
The beginning of this journey is understanding the entirety of the supply chain and the stages that you want to be looking at which potentially have the biggest impacts. The key to this, Anitta says, is full transparency. “In a recent study, McKinsey discovered that between 40 to 60% of a company’s environmental footprint actually comes from its supply chain. But only 23% of companies think of their footprint when choosing their suppliers. As you see it is crucial to understand your supply chain and what is causing the impact behind it”. Knowing where to start within the complexities of the supply chain requires asking questions like: Who are my suppliers and where are they located? What are the impacts of the major production processes? What kind of transportation services and materials are being used? Once you’ve identified the answers you can narrow in on what the major environmental issues could be and then make a plan. However, Anitta highlighted: “It’s quite impossible to fix all of them at the exact same time, it’s very important to focus on the issues that cause the most environmental problems, so-called your material issues. And also focus on the ones that are feasible for your brand to tackle first”.
Because the fashion supply chain can be so complex, Anitta suggested breaking it down into the different stages of the process so that identifying impacts can be streamlined and problem solving be more effective. She noted that “Sustainability starts even before the supply chain and one crucial aspect as a business is looking at the product design”. The product design should avoid being designed based on trends, fast production resulting in poor quality or highly blended synthetic materials that have limited, if any, end-of-life uses and minimal longevity.
Next is the use of raw materials in your products, and depending on the materials you choose to use there will be vastly different impacts. At Green Story, we have some preferred fibers that we love to see used and they have the potential to make a big difference on your impact. Anitta spent some time highlighting the preferred fibers which include Linen, Tencel, Bamboo, Recycled Polyester, Recycled Wool, Cork, Organic Cotton and Hemp. Anitta also explained how we rate the fibers based on the following criteria: water usage, CO2 emissions, cost, availability and any other impacts that might arise based on the fiber. For a detailed understanding of these fibers and to learn why they made the list, check out our downloadable ebooks.
At first thought you typically might not associate the yarn and fiber creation stage with energy grids, but Anitta noted that this link is crucial.
“Depending on what country you produce in you’ll have very different impacts because of the source of energy grids. If you’re producing in a country like China or India your CO2 emissions will be higher because they are based on coal power. This can be up from anywhere between 2 to 3 times the amount of emissions compared to grids based on hydropower or even natural gas”.
And while you’re at it, get a step ahead and consider how your products are being dyed and ensure that your dying requirements don’t use a lot of water, and the water they do use is being treated or is part of a closed-loop system. The best way to avoid this is simple, switch to natural dyes, low impact reactive dyes, or fiber that don’t require any dying. This is a good stage for brands to see big reductions because dying counts as one of the most impactful stages in the supply chain.
Anitta took us all the way to the Apparel creation and transportation stages which require important consideration as key parts of your supply chain. For apparel creation the issue is a little more obvious, “The main issue at this stage is that there is a lot of waste. 37% of the fiber is lost throughout the production when creating a t-shirt and most of it comes at this stage. This means that more fiber has to be produced to make that product’s waste”. Then how do you get your products where they need to be? Consider how you’re shipping them. Different modes of transportation have different levels of impacts but Anitta suggested that the best would be to use ship or train transport whenever possible, avoiding the use of air and trucks which result in hefty emission levels. For some brands it might be worthwhile to consider moving supply chains within a closer proximity in order to avoid excessive movements and any resulting emissions.
Now we know that it’s a lot to consider, but even more, we know that taking the time to consider which stage holds your biggest impacts will make a big difference in the long run. Just remember Anitta’s big takeaways: Avoid fast fashion practices; Use ship and train transportation whenever possible; Switch over to sustainable fibers.
To hear an in-depth overview of Anitta’s presentation and the answers to the questions from our audience, check out the recording of our webinar above. And to learn more about our favourite preferred fibers at Green Story and their benefits check out our downloadable e-books here.