Textiles’ toll on the environment
- In 2020 alone, greenhouse gas emissions totaling 121 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) were generated through the production of textiles consumed in the European Union. This translates into 270 kilograms CO2e per person. The European Environment Agency (EEA) reported these statistics in a February 2022 briefing that advances a transition toward “a circular textile production and consumption system.”
- Put in starker terms, “textiles have on average the fourth highest negative life cycle impact on the environment and climate change, after food, housing and mobility,” according to the EEA’s briefing.
- Likewise, the EEA found that European consumption of textiles had “the third highest impact on water and land use and the fifth highest in terms of raw material use and greenhouse gas emissions.”
- The EEA stated that industry would need to “shift business models, including circular design,” if the consequences of such consumption are to be averted. “This will need technical, social and business model innovation, as well as behavioural change and policy support,” EEA wrote in the report.
The circular economy and the EU’s strategy for sustainable textiles
- The European Commission defines the circular economy as one that “aims to maintain the value of products, materials and resources for as long as possible by returning them into the product cycle at the end of their use, while minimising the generation of waste.”
- This type of economy departs drastically from the traditional linear model which is predicated on a “take-make-consume-throw away” paradigm. The linear economy also places value on planned obsolescence, which entails intentionally designing products with shorter useful lives so that customers are encouraged to repurchase them over and over again, leading to ever higher levels of consumption of finite resources. By contrast, circular models aim to reduce the consumption of raw materials by improving product durability and extending the useful lives of products.
- The EU strategy for sustainable and circular textiles has been identified as a priority initiative under the European Green Deal, the Circular Economy Action Plan (CEAP) and the Industrial Strategy. While the EU Parliament and the Council still have to agree to the details of this strategy before it is finalized, the Commission’s proposal, adopted in March 2022, envisions significant legislative initiatives intended to move clothing and textile production, use and disposal away from the linear model. They include the adoption of a common industrial technology roadmap on circularity; mandatory performance requirements for environmental sustainability of textiles; Digital Product Passports for textiles with information requirements on environmental sustainability; mandatory requirements concerning green public procurement and member-state incentives; and Product Environmental Footprint Category Rules for apparel and footwear; among many others.
Danish EPA has launched a sectoral collaboration with the domestic textiles industry
- DEPA announced in an August 8 press release that the agency had launched a voluntary sectoral collaboration on textiles with national operators across the clothing and textile sectors, which have committed to a set of three binding targets aimed at reducing the domestic industry’s overall climate and environmental footprint.
- Initially, 10 of Denmark’s clothing and textile companies, including Ganni and Bestseller, as well as the industry associations Wear, Dansk Mode & Textil, and the Danish Chamber of Commerce (Dansk Erhverv) have signed on to the agreement, according to a press release issued by the Lifestyle and Design Cluster (LDC), an “innovation network” affiliated with the Ministry of Education and Research and appointed as secretariat to manage the initiative, in coordination with DEPA.
- DEPA and LDC have invited other businesses in the Danish clothing and textile sectors, including textile manufacturers, clothing designers, new and used clothing retailers, and service companies facilitating resale, to join the undertaking.
- The collaborative effort among industry stakeholders seeks to get a head start on the EU textiles strategy. As Thomas Klausen of Dansk Mode & Textil is quoted in the LDC press release: “It is crucial that the Danish industry moves in the same direction when it comes to the circular transition. We are facing massive legal requirements from the EU and by joining together on common goals now, the Danish companies will be ready to meet the requirements, yes, maybe even be ahead.”
Collaboration organization and objectives
- The Danish Ministry of Environment’s (MoE) collaboration document lays down the formal organization and the objectives of the partnership, stating that additional objectives may be established later.
- Initially, it aims to achieve three principal goals: First, by 2030, all clothing and textiles from each participating Danish company must consist of at least 40% recycled material, including at least 10% recycled directly from textile fibers. Second, it creates common circular design requirements with a view to clothes from Danish companies being designed to have more lives and to be part of optimal circular lifecycles; businesses of all sizes, including small and medium-size enterprises, should be able to implement the design requirements. And third, a larger part of revenues from clothing in Denmark should come from resale, and clothing should be kept in use as long as possible.
- The collaboration is formally led by a steering group, made up of 10-15 participating companies and DEPA, which serves as an observer. The steering group approves an action plan, short-term goals and any other initiatives necessary to achieve the overall goals of the collaboration. It is empowered to set up working groups which are tasked with focusing on different aspects of the action plan and which contribute to the exchange of experience and knowledge between the participating companies.
- DEPA and LDC are responsible for preparing guidelines for company-specific baselines so that progress can be measured and qualified. Likewise, LDC as secretariat is charged with collecting data from collaboration member companies who are required to submit annual reports on their progress made toward achieving the overall goals.
- MoE highlights that starting in 2023, the collaboration will be extended to companies operating in Norway, Sweden and Finland.
- Denmark often leads in advancing environmental protection and sustainability policies. A recent example of this fact is that for the second year running, in 2022, Denmark earned the highest Environmental Performance Index (EPI) score, a global sustainability ranking by Yale and Columbia universities, among 180 countries evaluated.
- Dan Jørgensen, Danish minister for climate, energy, and utilities, explained that despite his country’s relatively small carbon footprint, Denmark wants to serve as a leading example for other countries that policies based on renewables development and circular models can work. “So why do we spend so much time and resources on transforming ourselves? Because we want to be a frontrunner; we want to show the world that you can have a decarbonized economy that is wealthy and provides its people with a high quality of life,” Jørgensen said in a 2021 interview with the Yale School of Environment.
- For other EU member states, the public-private collaboration that Denmark has initiated ahead of the EU’s sustainability strategy represents one possible pathway on the journey to circularity in the textiles industry. Industry IQ will continue to monitor and report on how this collaboration develops.
To contact the author of this item, please email Scott Stephens ( [email protected]).
Key Documents and Dates
- Frivilligt sektorsamarbejde om tekstiler, Miljøministeriet – Departementet (June 2022)
- Cirkulær omstilling danner grundlag for nyt samarbejde i mode- og tekstilbranchen (August 9, 2022)