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IFAI chairman discusses textile industry challenges

Markets | October 1, 2008 | By:

Scott Campbell, chairman of the board at IFAI and owner of Rainier Industries in Tukwila, Wash., recently talked with us about some of the issues facing the textile industry in its movement toward sustainable products and practices.

How much can textile suppliers and manufacturers realistically accomplish toward embracing sustainable/green practices at this time, in this economy?

Well, defining “green” is a challenge because there are no standards. But everyone can make strides—little steps add up quickly. Start with getting serious about reducing waste and increasing recycling efforts. As an industry, we have a challenge in that such a high percentage of our textile products are PVC-based. We need more companies reclaiming PVC from our vinyl products, as Ferrari is doing in partnership with the Texyloop recycling program. Texyloop is recycling both the PVC and polyester fibers and at the same time utilizing solvent reclaimed in the process to help power their plant.

What is currently driving this issue of sustainability; consumers, market demands, personal initiatives?

All three. We have customers not just encouraging this but demanding it. We feel market pressure, probably stronger here in the Pacific Northwest than in the rest of the country, and this is also something that is important to us at Rainier.

How does the global economy hamper some of the initiatives that companies would like to embrace, i.e. putting money into innovative technologies that allow them to recycle or reuse, but then not being able to compete with lower-priced offshore products?

I was in China last year and it was eye-opening to see the extent of pollution and the lack of regulation and compliance required; it is troubling, and certainly makes it more difficult for other countries to be competitive while having to meet higher standards.

Where do you think the industry will be in two to five years?

The escalation of petroleum costs is driving a lot of progress right now, encouraging people to be more efficient and reduce their energy consumption. Heating and fuel costs are up and the residual effects of petroleum costs are going up because we have a lot of fabrics that are PVC-based. It is forcing us to look at ways to reduce our heating and travel costs, electrical costs, all of it. I believe a great deal of progress will be made in the next few years and I am delighted to see that progress gaining traction.

What is your company doing to be more environmentally sensitive in its business model and products?

We have a full-blown sustainability initiative; it is core to our business model, to who we are and what we believe in. We’re reducing wastes, increasing recycling, reducing energy consumption, utilizing more green materials, encouraging employee involvement both at work and at home, and minimizing hazardous wastes. We’ve made huge strides in reducing wastes; we reduced our garbage by 40 percent over the last six months. We are doing a lot and are very proud of the progress we’ve made.

What are the short-term and long-term business benefits to pursuing sustainable practices and products, and how does your company balance that with economic concerns?

At Rainier, sustainability marries two important themes: that environmental sensitivity does not preclude economic success, and that economic success must be ecologically viable now and in the long run.

Barbara Ernster is a freelance writer based in St. Paul, Minn.

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