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Textile industry finds ways to go green

Business | October 1, 2008 | By:

The Cradle to Cradle (C2C) concept has been influential in moving the U.S. textile industry toward more sustainable practices. Developed by architect William McDonough and chemist Michael Braungart, C2C transforms industry by creating products for cradle-to-cradle cycles, whose materials are perpetually circulated in closed loops, maximizing material value without damaging ecosystems. The concept is prompting the textile industry to find ways to reuse fabric products, address dyes and auxiliaries, and to look at the fiber itself, says James Ewell, director of consulting at McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry (MBDC). Ewell will be speaking at the “Going Beyond Green” symposium at IFAI Expo.

The architecture and design community has been a main driver behind C2C in the textile industry, says Ewell. “Textiles are so integral to their work. They’re a fairly educated and curious audience wanting to know how sustainable practices can be brought into their work, and they want to use their purchasing power to influence the industry.” This is also the community that sits behind the LEED system (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, Green Building Rating System) which holds great interest to textile manufacturers.

MBDC has developed standards of certification that manufacturers can apply for as a way of certifying their level of sustainability. Its nonprofit organization, Green-Blue, has formed a partnership with the Association for Contract Textiles (ACT) and NSF International to develop standards for certifying sustainable textiles used in commercial furnishing fabrics, upholstery, and woven products for commercial interiors. If accepted, it would be an open source document that others could use as a basis for their own standards.

“Whether manufacturers choose to certify their products or not, they’re still available to help guide your manufacturing process. It’s a passive way to use it, but still very helpful,” says Ewell.

Regarding the cost of adopting a sustainable business model, Ewell says, “Sustainability is the one aspect of innovation that people expect to get a cost savings. With any other innovative initiative, they expect it to cost more up front. We have an accounting system that measures things on a short-term basis, but a lot of the challenges we have are longer-term investments,” he says. “Enough players in the market are talking about wanting to recover material and make sure it’s recycled at a higher value. We’ll see examples of companies trying to close the loop on their own or by partnering with others in the supply chain. Two years from now, we’ll have a breakthrough in closing the loop in textiles.”

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

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