Monday, August 9, 2010

19 textile sector companies sustainability profiles

Alongside the very worthwhile Sustainability Initiatives study benchmarking of 100 top-notch Companies and what they are doing to save the planet and us, Sustainable Life Media also released at the end of last month another fascinating report entitled: "Exporting Textiles: March to Sustainability. Preview of the coming decade: Textile Supply chain Sustainability Plans by Brands and Retailers." And as if that title weren't long enough, it has a subtitle: "Getting Manufacturers to Create Business Value through GHG (Energy), Water and Waste Conservation". The report was produced by cKinetics, and supported by SLM and Nitra. Anyway, now we know what it's all about, let's take a look.

We start off with a bit of context taken from the intro-page: "The 1990s was about the march towards manufacturing quality as the textile industry worldwide raced to adopt lean manufacturing and ISO driven quality practices. The 2000s were about ensuring ethical sourcing and labour practices. The coming decade is going to be about sustainability and optimally using natural resources to generate value in the textile supply chain. This report previews activities already underway that are harbingers of this coming movement." The report examines aspects of sustainability which concern the textile supply chain from the raw material (natural fiber or man made fiber) to the point that it is converted to finished product. The focus in the report is primarily on energy efficiency, greenhouse gas emissions, water and chemcial footprints and logistics. This is important as, the report says, the textile industry is the number one fresh water polluter on the planet, and is high in carbon intensity. In India, for example, 10% of the country's energy is consumed by the textile industry. 10% . Think about that for a minute................ OK. Stop. Move on.

The report provides detailed profiles of brands and their supply chain sustainability initiatives of 19 leading textile sector companies. Those that have programs under way are: Adidas, Carrefour, Gap Inc, H&M, Ikea, Levi Strauss, Marks and Spencer, Nike, Otto, Walmart, Continental Clothing. Those companies whose (supply chain environmentl) initiatives are at the planning stage are: Phillips-van-Heusen, Timberland, Inditex, Grupo Cortefiel, John Lewis Partnership,  Primark, Lindex and Tesco.  None of the Companies studies are in the unfortunate position of not having anything in progress or in the pipeline, which is a good thing, I suppose.

A few interesting initiatives: Gap are extending their environmental footprinting assessment right throughout the supply chain , including the mills that convert cotton into fabrics. This is great. Marks and Spencer are going big on Fairtrade cotton with a target of 20 million garments by 2012. Levi Strauss have extended Global Effluent Emissions guidelines to second tier suppliers. And more and more .....

The report profiles each of these manufacturers using the following parameters:

*  Overall approach and key initiatives
*  Aspects of supply chain sustainability the Company measures (eg energy, water, emissions etc)
*  Standards and Frameworks used (eg GRI, GHG PRotocol, Oeko-Tex or proprietary framework)
*  Sustainability intiatives relative to the Company's suppliers.

Some Company reports are highly detailed, with some, such as Primark and Lindex, did not fill a page.

(NB: The report does not analyse reported data or benchmark or rank Company performance; it describes what the Company is doing and which processes it has adopted). (Sorry, I know you all like rankings, but this report doesn't go there. Hah! Gotcha!)

In addition, the report summarizes the provisions of the key standards and certifications for sustainability (environmental) initiatives in the textile supply chain and ends up with some predictions. The report's key conclusion is that "evidence pointing to a new wave of sustainability is quite clear". The report predicts that (environmental) sustainability intiatives in the textile supply chain will be adopted by all major players, and will become a differentiating factor in supplier selection.

I might add a couple of predictions myself:

First, the word "traceability" will necessarily be on the lips of every manufacturer sourcing textiles and suppliers will need to be able to operate systems which give total supply chain transparency and accountability.

Second, manufacturers will need to change their own internal procedures. It will not be enough to require suppliers to be more environmentally friendly. Manufacturers will need to review the way they manage consumer demand and production planning which in turn affects the way suppliers can respond, and impacts the production, waste and logistics activities. Whether or not the 18 companies benchmarked will succumb to the pressures of slow fashion remains to be seen, but even if they continue fast fast fast fashion, they will have to start doing it a little differently to generate greater total supply chain effiiencies.

Third, as a result of all these brilliant supply chain efficiencies, manufacturers will pay their suppliers a fair wage and also share their supply chain savings with consumers, and we will all be able to afford a new wardrobe about six times a year. Oops. You don't believe that, do you ? Just kidding. :) Only 5 times a year.

The big advantage of this report is the ability to review 19 of the top players in the sector side by side and gain an overall  insight into what is driving environmental sustainability initatives in this sector. The textile sector is fascinating and contains many lessons for different industries. The challenges of environmental sustainability in the massively complex textile supply chains are incredible. This report is a useful addition to our body of knowledge and hopefully will serve to accelerate progress.

By the way, most of  the data provided in this report was sourced from Corporate Responsibility Reports. YEAH!  I told you CSR reports were good for something!

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainabilty Reporter, HR Professional, Ice Cream Addict. Contact me via  on Twitter or via my business website  (BeyondBusiness, an inspired CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm)

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