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Using Industrial Ecology to Rethink Fashion Consumerism

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Assessing the Apparel Industry as a Whole

The apparel industry is massive.  From a supply side, clothing and textiles represent about seven percent of world exports, with China alone accounting for nearly a quarter of the world’s apparel exports.  On the demand side, 2011 consumption levels in the global textile and garment industry reached nearly US$3 trillion.


The Environmental Impact of the Apparel Industry

Apparel production happens to be a dirty business.  Its major environmental impacts need to be addressed – sooner rather than later.  The industry’s reliance on fossil fuels to create synthetic, man-made fibers and to power the production of finished clothing goods produces significant emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs).  The vast volume of water required and the use of toxic chemicals to pre-treat, dye and print fabric are major contributors to water and land pollution.  Further, the emergence of ‘fast fashion’ or hyper-consumerism is exacerbating environmental issues within the industry, creating exponentially more air, water and land pollution, waste build-up, and fossil fuel and water consumption.


The Application of Industrial Ecology Practices to “Clean-up” the Apparel Industry

That all said, the apparel industry is not going away. It literally clothes the world.  But the industry is ripe for change.  It needs to lead the charge in instituting sustainable practices throughout its value chain from the sourcing of raw material to end-of-life product practices. Clothing manufacturers have in their capacity the ability to decrease their global environmental impact by more than half what it is today by employing four features of industrial ecology into their supply chain on a systemic scale.

The supply chain of clothing manufacturing is long and globalized, fragmented and non-standard.  Throughout the value chain, there are many ‘hands in the pot’ necessary to bring a piece of clothing to market.  These “players” include crop farmers, multinational chemical companies, textile companies, cut and sew factories, packaging companies, global shipping and distribution companies, and retailers that sell product to consumers. These companies are highly distributed throughout the globe, have many different owners and corporate structures, and range from global in size to tiny sweatshops.  Each firm plays an important role in delivering a necessary input into the clothing manufacturing value chain.  However, within this long and murky supply chain there is an incredible amount of pollution, waste, and carbon use to produce an article of clothing for consumer consumption that seems to be increasingly insatiable, fickle and unnecessary.


The Trends in Apparel that Make it Unhealthy for the Environment

There are trends in clothing manufacturing that are placing great pressure on the environment.  These trends include:  a) the growth in use of man-made fibers, b) the ‘fast fashion’ trend and c) the globalized supply chain with its concentration in poorer, developing countries lacking strong environmental controls.  These trends have pushed the industry to the point of unsustainability.


Trend #1:  Man-made fabrics

The volume of clothing being produced for world consumption continues to grow.  The growth is almost entirely fueled by the creation of man-made fabric, specifically, polyester.  To give an example, “approximately two thirds of the imports of fibres, yarns and fabrics to the UK are man-made.” World demand for natural fibers (e.g., cotton, silk, wool and linen) remain relatively constant whereas the demand of man-made fibers (e.g., polyester, acrylic, and nylon) has nearly doubled over a 15-year period between 1990 and 2004.  Man-made fibers account for 70 percent of all fibers (global production was 63.2 million tonnes in 2013) produced worldwide.  Among the many different types of man-made fibers, the demand for polyester is the greatest globally. This trend poses a significant environmental issue.  Man-made fibers such as polyester, nylon, acrylic and spandex (to name a few) are made from petrochemicals.  Fossil fuels are a non-renewable resource and when used in production, highly pollutive to the environment.


Trend #2:  Fast Fashion

The second trend negatively impacting the environment is the emergence of ‘fast fashion’.  This trend has two components.  First, manufacturers have dramatically shortened their apparel production lifecycle times from months to weeks providing new collections of clothing to the market every three to six weeks (10-18 new collections annually versus the more traditional four to six per year).  Second, consumers have demanded cheaper clothing from the industry and the industry has delivered.  A study by Cambridge University reports that in 2006, consumers were buying 33 percent more clothes than they were in 2002, and women own four times more clothes than they did in 1980.  This increase in clothing consumption is costing households less than ever before.  ‘Fast fashion’ demands increase material throughput in the manufacturing production process, which in turn drives increased need for water consumption in the dyeing and finishing (e.g., laundering) processes of apparel, increased waste during the sampling, cutting and sewing phases of production, and increased use of chemicals that contaminate freshwater.  Just as concerning is the end-of-life waste that is exacerbated by ‘fast fashion’.  Currently, 80 percent of consumer goods are not “recovered”, meaning, they end up as trash to be incinerated or dumped as waste in landfills.  In the United States where apparel consumption is high, Americans throw away more than 68 pounds of clothing and textiles per person per year.  This waste stream represents about four percent of the municipal solid waste in the United States.


Trend #3:  Shifting Production to Environmentally-lax countries

The third trend to negatively impact the environment within the apparel industry is the sector’s supply chain shift to the developing world, which is dominated by small and poor Asian countries.  Global employment in the apparel sector is increasingly concentrated in China, Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, Mexico, Romania, Cambodia and Turkey. To emphasize this trend for one country, the apparel industry accounts for almost 20 percent of Bangladesh’s GDP and makes up 80 percent of the country’s export earnings.  These developing countries have much laxer environmental controls and clean production standards than those found in developed countries such as Italy, the United Kingdom and the United States.  Within these countries, pollution is heavy.  Exacerbating the issue is that the polluters are mostly unregulated while remedial mechanisms are lax to null. Global industry standards are just starting to be developed and have yet to be universally adopted by manufacturing brands let alone their extensive upstream supply chains.


Examples of Environmental Impact from the Production of a Cotton T-Shirt and a Pair of Jeans

Below, this author describes how a T-shirt and a pair of jeans, respectively, are made, and details the material flow and energy consumption in the production of both a T-shirt and a pair of jeans from the harvesting of cotton to each item’s sale in a retail store.   In the T-shirt example, the item is made from 100 percent cotton.   It is a good likelihood that the cotton for the T-shirt is harvested, ginned and spun into yarn in the United States.  Next, the yarn is shipped to China to be knit, dyed, cut and sewn before being shipped to a developed country such as the United Kingdom, to be sold, bought and used.  Consumers in the United Kingdom purchase about eight T-shirts per person each year, which equals 460 million T-shirts imported in 2004 or 150,000 tonnes of cotton fibers.  The total material energy consumption to make a T-shirt is approximately 109 million joules.

Now we can compare the material flow and energy consumption in the production of a pair of jeans.  To make one pair of Levi’s 501 jeans, made from 100 percent cotton spun in a primary producing country (United States, India, Pakistan, Brazil, China or Australia) to be sold, bought and used in a developed country (United States, United Kingdom or France) and encompassing the full life cycle of a pair of jeans from cotton harvesting, garment manufacturing, packaging and transportation of the item to its end-of-life, the environmental impact includes the following:

  • 4 kg of carbon dioxide and other GHGs released into the atmosphere
  • 3,781 liters of water consumed
  • 9 g of oxygen depletion (eutrophication) as a result of nitrogen and phosphorous deposited into freshwater or marine environments
  • 12 m2 per year of land used to support the production of the pair of jeans


If we extend our viewpoint to the production of all cotton produced in the United States (1.4 million tonnes in 2005) annually and we consider that the annual yield of cotton goes into making a single product, more than three billion pairs of jeans or more than 13 billion men’s dress shirts would be produced globally.  Cotton makes up 90 percent of all natural fibers used in the textile industry and is used in 40 percent of all apparel produced globally.  If we look at the growing volume of man-made fibers used in production, synthetic fibers account for 55 percent of the global textile industry. Looked at another way, 65 billion pounds of virgin polyester are created annually across the globe to produce apparel products, derived from crude-oil fossil fuel.


A Macro-Lense of Environmental Impact within the Apparel Industry

As we contemplate the environmental impact of apparel production, we should consider that cotton farming is the single largest water consumption factor in the apparel sector’s supply chain.  Further, some 14.4 percent of an apparel manufacturer’s total water footprint is consumed during the production process with an estimated 17 to 20 percent of industrial water pollution occurring during the dyeing and finishing phases of apparel production, where more than 8,000 synthetic chemicals are released into freshwater sources.

The apparel manufacturing industry is energy intensive, highly pollutive, and promotes material consumption behaviors that negatively impact the environment, including the use of man-made, synthetic fibers that are non-biodegradable, increased material production throughput and end-of-life waste build-up.  The industry is in need of an overhaul.  Sustainability measures are required and urgently.  Industrial ecology methodologies and practices applied to the apparel industry in a systemic and global capacity could yield considerable and sustainable benefits to the environment.  It is estimated that “water consumption in global apparel production could…be lowered by as much as 50 percent, energy consumption by one third or more, and the use of chemicals reduced by up to one fifth.


What is Industry Ecology?

Industrial ecology is the study of material and energy flows through an industrial system.” Specifically, its goal is to design a closed-loop manufacturing system where waste serves as an input into the next production cycle.  Realizing a completely closed-loop, zero-waste production process is an impossibility given the law of entropy in thermodynamics.  That said, there are several tenants in industrial ecology that are applicable to the apparel manufacturing industry.  These concepts include:  a) end-of-life design, b) dematerializing production, c) closed-loop manufacturing, and d) extending the life of products.


Concept 1:  End-of-Life Design

End-of-life design is to design a new product with its end in mind.  Most clothing meets one of two fates after it reaches the end of its useful life.  Either it will be thrown in a landfill where it will accumulate and create land waste or it will be incinerated, emitting toxins into the atmosphere.  McDonough and Braungart call for eco-effective design and they argue that during the design phase we must be cognizant in determining between biological and technical nutrients.  Biological nutrients are materials designed to return to the earth.  An example of this is product packaging used to protect products during transport that biodegrades. Technical nutrients are products that are designed to return back into the technical cycle of production. Examples of these materials include such common items such as glass, rubber, aluminum, and cadium (commonly found in batteries). These products are easily recyclable and should be designed for reuse; revalorized to create new products of the same or similar quality.


Concept 2:  Dematerialization

The second concept applicable to apparel manufacturing is dematerializing production.  Dematerializing is to determine where in the production system natural resources are used intensely and /or are being polluted and then to choose “technologies and processes that use renewable or better-performing resources”.  Designing a shoe that requires less fabric and rubber than its predecessor or using less water in the dyeing process of fabric are two examples of dematerialization.


Concept 3: Closed-loop Manufacturing

A closed-loop manufacturing process means that the process of creating a new product for consumer purchase ultimately reincorporates that product at its end-of-life stage to be disassembled into its component parts (biological versus technical), recycled and upcycled (using reused parts to create a new product with the same or greater value than the original) back into the same production system to deliver a new product for sale.  Closed-loop manufacturing necessarily entails developing a sophisticated reverse supply chain into a company’s manufacturing system.  Specifically, this means a company must have mechanisms in place to retrieve end-of-life product, ship products to locations for upcycling, and convert recycled materials to virgin-like input status before these upcycled materials enter the traditional manufacturing process again.


Concept 4:  Revalorization (or Extending the Life of Products Already Made)

Lastly, industrial ecology places an emphasis on extending the life of products.  This idea includes the concepts of remanufacturing, refurbishing and recycling.  This paper particularly focuses on the concept of product service offerings, which have legitimate applicability to the apparel industry.  We are speaking about services of clothing repair, tailoring, alternate washing and new design applications to existing products, for a fee.  In industrial ecology, placing emphasis on servicing existing products versus the creation of new products is an appealing notion in order to decrease material throughput and energy use in industrial production.


Practical Application of Industrial Ecology Practices within the Apparel Industry

Real-life application through individual company case studies within the apparel industry will highlight each of the industrial ecology concepts highlighted above.  Each company’s business practices will be explained and detail provided on how changes to the way products are designed, produced, recycled and/or revalorized have minimized environmental impacts in each company’s manufacturing process.  Eileen Fisher’s decision to use only natural fibers in the production of their women’s apparel will serve as an example of one component of end-of-life design.  Three company examples – Levi Strauss & Co.’s water reuse/recycle endeavors, Nike’s no-water dyeing technology and adidas’ no-dye clothing lines – will serve as premier examples of how to dematerialize industrial production to better serve the environment.  Patagonia serves as an exemplar company that is working diligently to implement a closed-loop production system.  Denham Jeans is a clean and simple example of a company that has internalized the idea that apparel companies can be more than just producers of new goods and profitable providing services alongside product.  Patagonia rounds out the service model concept with the initiatives it promotes to customers to extend product life.


Company 1:  Eileen Fisher & End-of-Life Design

Eileen Fisher is a 30-year old women’s apparel company.  In March 2015, the company announced VISION2020, a comprehensive plan to transform itself into a fully sustainable operated business.  The company is working on many levels to implement a closed-loop manufacturing system.  Of particular note is the company’s decision to design only with sustainable fibers.  A cotton tank top is sold for $108 in Eileen Fisher stores.  Since 2014, that cotton tank top is now made only with organic cotton.  By 2020, all the cotton, linen and wool the company sources to make apparel will come from organic crops, humanely-treated animals and from lands sustainably managed.  They will abolish the use of virgin man-made fibers (e.g., rayon) produced from fossil fuel oil while embracing recycled synthetic fibers to be revalorized into new products.  Eileen Fisher’s end-of-life design commitment to using either biodegradable natural fibers or recycled man-made fibers is just the first part in the development of a closed-loop manufacturing system.  As the company states itself, “we start by designing our clothes to last…and when you’re done with them we take them back to resell. By 2020 we expect that recycling total to hit one million. And the pieces we can’t sell? They’re tomorrow’s raw material, to be reborn as new textiles or refashioned as new clothes.”  It is too early in the process to offer quantitative results from the company’s transition to sustainable-only inputs but it should be noted that more than 50 percent of Eileen Fisher’s input materials have an environmental certification and over 75 percent of energy used in its production comes from renewable sources.


Company 2:  Levi Strauss & Co. & Dematerialization

Three separate companies are making great strides in dematerializing their production cycles to minimize environmental impact.  Levi Strauss & Co. has created water recycle/reuse standards for the apparel industry as well as developed a water innovation program called Water<Less, which it employs in the production of its denim jeans.  Water consumption in making a pair of cotton denim jeans is 3,781 liters (compared to 2650 liters to make one cotton shirt).  Water use is incredibly intensive for the company and industry and is not sustainable.  Levi Strauss’ water reycle/reuse standards are meant to “preserve fresh water supplies for drinking and other necessary uses” for humans and their communities as well as to incent water recycling in a factory’s production cycle.  The company’s Water<Less program facilitates the minimization of water in the process of garment finishing and fabric dyeing.  This Water<Less program was first instituted in the Fall of 2015 and the company realized a 65 percent water savings on garment dyeing, which equates to an average of six liters of water saved per garment dyed.


Company 3 & 4:  Nike Inc. and Adidas & Dematerialization

Nike began a strategic partnership with a Netherlands-based company, DyeCoo Textile Systems B.V., in early 2012, to test and operate a waterless textile dyeing machine.  Nike utilizes this technology on a small portion of their athletic apparel.  The technology utilizes recycled carbon dioxide to dye apparel fabric, thus eliminating the use of water in the dyeing process. Nike believes the CO2 dyeing technology could “revolutionize textile manufacturing, and we want to…scale this technology and push it throughout the industry.”  The technology provides a multitude of positive environmental benefits.  Some major call-outs include:

  • Zero water is used to dye fabric
  • Near zero waste water is produced using the dyeing technology
  • Zero chemicals used in the dyeing process
  • Energy consumption is decreased by 63 percent utilizing the dyeing technology


It is important to note an initiative adidas has implemented for some of their apparel lines called “NoDye”.  “NoDye” is a term used to refer to apparel products that are designed, produced and sold to consumers without the use of dyeing (i.e., produced using “their natural color state”).  Because the dyeing process has been skipped, less water, energy and fewer chemicals are employed in the production process, decreasing manufacturing’s environmental impact.  Adidas introduced “NoDye” apparel in 2014 for their Outdoor, Originals, Running and Training apparel lines and continue to grow the number of lines designed as “NoDye” apparel.


Company 5:  Patagonia & Closed-Loop Manufacturing

The implementation of closed-loop manufacturing processes can be best seen in the efforts of the company:  Patagonia.  Founded in 1973, Patagonia is a manufacturer and retailer of men and women’s outdoor clothing and is a certified B corporation.  Patagonia implements many industrial ecology concepts across the majority of its product line in as comprehensive a way as possible by today’s standards.  The company believes in making high-quality, durable and long-lasting products for its customers so that individuals can commit to buying less and focus on repairing or reusing what they already have.  The company states that its “R&D department is constantly looking to improve and innovate on the materials we use to ensure we are truly making the most durable, long-lasting, best-in-class products.” The company makes a concerted effort to use raw material inputs for their apparel production that cause less environmental harm than “conventional” (non-organic) or non-recycled fibers.  Patagonia uses natural fibers such as hemp, organic cotton, tencel (wood-based fiber) and yulex (non-allergenic latex proteins).  The recycled fibers the company employs in its apparel production include:  recycled nylon, recycled polyester, reclaimed cotton, recycled wool and recycled down.  The company announced at the beginning of 2007 that its goal by 2010 was to ensure that every piece of apparel produced would be made from recycled material and that the company would recycle every piece of clothing sent back to it to be revalorized into new gear again:  a closed loop manufacturing system.  Patagonia did not quite meet that goal but is coming very close to its realization.  For the company’s spring 2010 line, 83 percent of all styles produced were recyclable.  For its fall 2010 line, only 77 percent of the apparel was recyclable because colder-weather gear is more technical and not all components are yet capable of being recycled.  The company’s spring 2011 line included 90 percent of all products fit for recycling.

Additionally, Patagonia was one of the first and largest apparel manufacturers to recycle PET plastic bottles into recycled polyester fabric. The company estimates that between 1993 and 2006, it saved 86 million plastic bottles from entering landfill.  Further, the recycling of cotton T-shirts helps to save 20,000 liters of water per kilogram of cotton grown.

As it relates to its production supply chain, Patagonia works with bluesign® technologies to evaluate and reduce resource consumption and to manage chemicals, dyes and finishes used on its products.  In 2007, Patagonia was the first brand to join the network of bluesign® system partners. The company now works with 45 bluesign® approved suppliers.  From spring 2015, 56 percent of Patagonia’s fabrics used were bluesign® approved.

Patagonia further closes its manufacturing loop by promoting recycling behavior in its customers and taking the responsibility to accept used Patagonia products at its retail locations and through the mail. The company takes on the responsibility of sorting through all clothing dropped off or sent in to be recycled.  The materials that can be upcycled (transformed back into a virgin-like state to make a new product with recycled fiber), are shipped to two main factories in Japan (to recycle polyester) and Italy (to recycle wool and cotton).  Other recycled products are downcycled into lesser-quality products such as filling for pillows and upholstery.  Since Patagonia started its closed-loop manufacturing process in 2004, the company has recycled or upcycled 164,062 pounds of apparel product.


Company 6:  Denham Jeans & Revalorization

The last industrial ecology practice to be discussed is that of manufacturers providing services alongside and in substitution of new material production.  Patagonia markets its environmental “Worn Wear” program throughout all of its retail stores. The program aims to reduce the footprint of Patagonia products over their entire lifecycle from birth to death. It encourages consumers to change their relationship with products and their ideas on material consumption.  “Worn Wear” promotes the repairing of products.  Through the “Worn Wear” program, Patagonia commits to fixing customers’ gear in stores and at the company’s garment repair center as well as teaches customers how to fix broken items themselves.  Lastly, “Worn Wear” promotes the purchase of quality used clothing and gear available at their retail stores instead of new virgin products.

Denham Jeans, on a much smaller scale to Patagonia but prescient in their delivery of services post-sale, has opened several global repair retail shops where customers (or non-customers) can bring used Denham jeans (or other branded jeans) to be repaired – stitched, darned, patched, reinforced – as well as to get updated treatments on jeans such as hem shortening, laundry services, added buttons, and embroidery performed. Both Patagonia’s and Denham’s service models are intended to extend the life of an existing product (promoting a reduction in material throughput and energy usage in new production), affect pattern changes in consumer consumption of material goods, and to make the service model profitable for the company in the long-run.  It has been determined that “if the average life of clothes could be extended by just nine months”, carbon, water and waste footprints could be reduced by 20-30 percent.

It is known that industrial ecology practices are being implemented by apparel manufacturers and that the environmental implications of deploying those methodologies are positive, and in some cases, profound.  Companies are able to realize decreases in water consumption and chemical usage of up to 50 percent.  Production measures to decrease environmental pollution (water, land and air) also seem promising.   And we are seeing a greater awareness, albeit nascent, that material throughput and consumption levels are unsustainable and a systemic overhaul needs to occur both at the industrial- and consumer-level.  However, there still exists significant challenges to the full-scale adoption of industrial ecology practices within the apparel industry.


Who Is Responsible for the Push to Implement?

The current industry stance on the desire to implement more sustainable measures within the sector’s production processes is one of interest but also a swift acknowledgement that customer demand for such products and practices is not sufficiently urgent.  This is the “chicken or the egg” argument of what comes first to drive sustainability in the industry:  customer demand or sector adoption?  This paper argues that companies and the industry as a whole must take the lead themselves to educate their customers through sustainable marketing campaigns so they understand the value of industrial ecology measures that support the environment.  In so doing, customers will be persuaded to change their consumption patterns and accept new pricing structures for apparel made sustainably.  Patagonia is a leader in this area.  It teaches its customers what is the right thing to do and leads them to where the industry needs to be.

The cost of implementing technology innovations such as waterless dyeing is high.  Some industry experts believe that unless consumers are willing to pay more for apparel, the technology needed to mitigate industrial production impacts on the environment will lack support and industry adoption will be minimal.  The other more valid viewpoint is articulated by Brad Poorman, chief marketing sales officer at the Yeh Group.  He says, “the technology is expensive but worth it because in 10 years’ time the savings will have exceeded costs. The use of zero water, reduction in energy and chemicals translates to tremendous savings, fiscally and environmentally.

The other side of the technology coin is the necessity of companies that adopt environmentally-saving technology to apply pressure and support, equally, on their upstream supplier network.  In fact, this author sees that knowledge creation, codification and sharing among the industry’s suppliers must occur for systemic adoption.  Levi Strauss & Co. has taken a significant lead in this category by developing water reuse/recycle standard procedures for implementation and measurement and open sourcing these standards for the entire sector to add in widespread adoption. A legitimate need may exist in the short- to medium-term for apparel manufacturers to subsidize their suppliers’ adoption of technology in order to catalyze the whole industry into action.


Present Day Realities within the Apparel Industry

Current adoption of sustainable production methodologies is small, sporadic and often is applied to a very small percentage of a company’s total annual apparel production.  Most companies are in the “testing” phase of becoming more sustainable.  Widespread adoption within companies and for the industry as a whole must be sooner, quicker and steadier.

The commitment to a closed-loop manufacturing process is a significant one with many challenges, unknowns and complications.  It entails creating, integrating and managing a comprehensive reverse supply chain.  It can literally double (or more) the decision-making and logistics of a company.  In essence, a reverse supply chain extends the core competencies of a business and mandates that a company owns a product even after its sale to the end consumer, whether it was sold through wholesale retailers, third-party distributors or company-owned retail outlets.  Companies do not like the idea of retaining liability for a product sold…forever.


Challenges That Need to Be Faced and Overcome

Lastly, designing products with the goal of zero waste and/or 100 percent re-absorption by the ecosystem entails more thought, consideration and research than the traditional product decision tree of whether the product is aesthetically pleasing, effectively performs its task and fulfills a need in the market.  Near zero waste and almost total re-absorption of product ‘nutrients’ is possible in intelligent design.  It just requires a lot more effort.  McDonough and Braungart provide five steps to follow to create eco-effective design:

  1. Get “free of” known culprits: avoid harmful substances in design
  2. Follow informed personal preferences: know what things are made of and how they are made
  3. Create a “passive positive” list: develop an inventory of materials for possible use and categorize them into a) toxic, b) problematic but necessary because substitutes are lacking and c) healthy and safe
  4. Activate the positive list: design using healthy and safe materials
  5. Reinvent: think beyond incremental design “tweaks”.  Aim for transformative.


Two Approaches to Potential Solution-Setting

There are several thoughts on how best to persuade the apparel industry to adopt cleaner, more sustainable production methodologies.  One policy measure that is beginning to be implemented across a broader swath of countries – 40 countries and over 20 cities, states and regions – is a carbon tax.  This ecological tax on resource use and environmental impact is heavily opposed by industry but if implemented in a revenue-neutral capacity, it could incent right behavior and technology adoption faster. Another proposed tax scheme the industry may consider is a carbon footprint tax on fashion supply chains. A carbon footprint tax is an alternative type of environmental protection tax imposed on companies that, if implemented and priced properly, encourages retailers to source apparel products locally by penalizing goods manufactured in a distant market.  From an industry and global supply chain standpoint, to better facilitate the adoption of closed-loop manufacturing, various complementary suppliers within the apparel industry could co-locate and connect their businesses (share facilities) to reduce manufacturing waste and maximize input re-absorption into their production processes.


In Conclusion

This paper set out to argue that through the adoption and implementation of industrial ecology practices, the apparel industry could reduce its environmental impact by more than 50 percent.  Specifically, significant reductions in water use, energy consumption, waste and pollution can be realized through widespread adoption of end-of-life product design, dematerialization efforts in apparel production, implementation of a closed-loop manufacturing system, and greater emphasis on product services to slow material throughput.  Each of the industrial ecology practices were explored through individual company case study with a focus on quantitative and qualitative positive environmental outcomes for each.  The paper addressed the biggest challenges to full industry adoption of industrial ecology methodologies and provided several country-level policies and industry standards that could be applied to incent the apparel sector to seek more impactful production practices as it relates to the environment.  It is clear reductions in environmental impact of more than 50 percent are attainable for the apparel industry.  However, country and global policy incentives need to be tested and refined; systemic infrastructure changes in the industry’s supply chain need to be developed; and a concerted, proactive leadership role needs to be adopted by the largest companies within the industry in order to change consumer price expectations, consumption patterns and perceptions of the role and value of apparel to meet our needs today and for tomorrow.


Contact Kate Gaertner today to see what Triple Win Advisory can do to help your business and industry increase sustainability to result in a “triple win” for company profit and long-term competitive advantage, societal well-being, and successful environmental pollution mitigation.



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