Sustainability against the fact of polluting textile production

Sustainability against the fact of polluting textile production

By Virginia F. Bodmer-Altura

A growing number of companies are publishing a report on their efforts of sustainability, might it be the Carbon Footprint of DyStar (Dyes and Chemicals) and Swiss Rieter (Textile Systems) and other firms, namely Ahlstrom (SF), a major producer of high perfo9rmance materials, including nonwovens, fibres and filters. Against these efforts, we would like to compare the findings of an NOG, namely Greenpeace, who published an extensive report titled “Dirty Laundry – Unveiling the corporate connections to toxic water pollution in China” (116 pages), based upon its extensive research work on China’s textile industry and we would like to bring all aspects to your attention to allow you to draw your own conclusions


First of all, let’s take note that there are lots of initiatives under way to produce overall sustainable textile products and the efforts are taken by responsible important players in the market and along the textile value chain, including textile machinery manufacturers. However, the results seem only to be a drop on a hot stone in comparison to the findings of Greenpeace in China. Since China is the country with the largest textile product output, TextileFuture feels that also those findings have to be brought to your attention. Of course, one might object that the aims come from different viewpoints but nevertheless all offer facts, figures and convictions, and the eagerness to contribute to cleaner and sustainable manufacturing processes in order to overcome the image of a “dirty” textile industry, polluting water and environment during the life cycle of a product and probably also presenting a threat to the health of the end customers. We are not feeding prejudgement, but some facts have to change and they have to change now and the efforts undertaken up to now are still insufficient to shed the image of a “dirty” industry, and we are hasting to confirm that there are other modern industries with dirty manufacturing processes that are also to be blamed, but since we are textile oriented, we put the weight on the relevant textile facts.

If we only have a look at the contents list of each of these reports, we note already the differences of what is considered as sustainability. The 2011 lists entail governance and management, core purpose, materiality assessment, products, sustainability in product design, code of conduct, people and culture and supply chain (all for Ahlstrom, 54 p), whereas Rieter’s Sustainability report (32 p) presents the Rieter Group, its sustainability strategy as well as economic, social and environmental sustainability. DyStar (Chemicals and Dyes) “Carbon Footprint Report 2011” (7 p) presents a condensed report with key figures on emissions and their sources and intensity and their reduction as to compare with 2010 and an explanatory sheet according to the principle methods and definitions applied. The Greenpeace “Dirty Laundry” Report (116 pages, published in March 2012 and most specifically dealing with China’s textile value chain) gives an executive summary, an introduction to the water crisis, toxic pollution and the textile industry and groups all chapters on Global South (developing and emerging countries, including the challenges of often rapid industrial development or industrial restructuring, such as Russian and most of the Global South is located in South and Central America, Asia and Africa. The Global North is used as a term for developed countries, predominantly located in North America and Europe, with high human development and according to the United Nation Human Development Index, most, but not all of these countries are located in the Northern hemisphere. It further covers the chapters the polluters and their customers – the chain of evidence and adds two Case studies, then follows the need for corporate responsibility then a call for championing a toxic-free future (Prospects and recommendations), and in appendices a documentation of the main brands having a relationship with the two Chinese companies being the subject of the case studies to be followed by the global market shares of sportswear companies and further brands linked with one company of the case study and last but not least background information on the hazardous chemicals found in the sampling and lastly references.

Taking these four examples, all published most recently, we see that sustainability has many different viewpoints, but all of the positive and negative statements, research and developments lead to one conclusion only: It opens the avenue of a more sustainable global textile world and each of these initiatives, including the two of the German VDMA and Italian ACIMIT umbrella associations of the national textile machinery manufacturers, and other label or institutional initiatives, are aiming at the same goal.

The principal positive factors

Each of the companies’ report shows progress over the years since the institutionalising of such reporting. Some reports add and extend sustainability to their former social responsibility reports. They all communicate their principles, their method of measuring sustainability and report on progress and new results.

Swiss Rieter Textile Systems has introduced environmental and safety principles and formed it to a company strategy and to carefully paying attention to the environment and to natural resources and incorporated it into the group’s value added chain. Development and production processes, as well as infrastructures are continuously monitored and optimised, giving priority to the development of eco-efficient products and services. Economic sustainability is “Delight your customers”, an enjoyable work situation for employees and fulfils also the aim “Fighting for profits”. Included are benefits for all company’s stakeholders (investors, customers, suppliers and value-added chain). The 2011 figures of the value-added represent the following sums: personnel costs CHF 302.3 (CHF275.8) million, re-invested earnings into the company CHF 86.6 (CHF79.7) million, income taxes CHF 19.0 (7.5) million, interest paid to creditors CHF 17.1 (19.5) million, and nothing to shareholders! The grand total amounts to CHF 423.0 (CHF 382.5) million. Under social sustainability Rieter sums up its personnel policy (employees, leadership and responsibility) and education and training (vocational and advanced) and the social sustainability comprises of occupational safety, risk audits environment, health and safety minimal procedure requirements and certified management systems and gives in addition details on its social and environmental sustainability (product development, external reporting, environmental data such as greenhouse gas emissions, acidification SOX emissions, water consumption, also by source. as well as waste disposal and recycling. The report can be downloaded by clicking on the following link:

Dy Star’s compact “Carbon Footprint Report” presents key figures to document the achievements reached form one year to another and reveals its rules and aims in detail. The report can be downloaded from the following link:

Ahlstrom documents much more details to give a total overview of its achievements and defining also new goals. It is, apart from the Greenpeace report, the most valuable and meticulously established sustainability report and leaves nothing out. More details – and they are worth it – can be had from and reference to sustainability.

The principal negative findings according to Greenpeace

Greenpeace calls its report “Dirty Laundry”, an investigation profiling the problem of toxic water pollution that results from the release of hazardous chemicals by the Chinese textile industry, and is threatening our ecosystems and human health.

GP02GBWIt is a fact that most leading textile brands are sourcing predominantly in China and of course there are many with Corporate Responsibility programmes partly addressing also the environmental impact of their supply chain. But Greenpeace proves in its report that none of the brands featured have an effective strategy in place to deal with the problem of water pollution caused by industrial discharges containing hazardous substances. At best, these programs are limited to ensure that suppliers comply with local standards.We have also reported before on other companies applying their home standards also to worldwide suppliers (e.g. in TextileFuture e-paper of October 2011)

The key findings of Greenpeace are based upon wastewater discharges from two facilities in China, namely the Youngor Textile Complex, located on the Yangtze River Delta, the second is Well Dyeing Factory Limited, and is located on a tributary of the Pearl River Delta. Additional investigations were conducted along the supply chains, tying these suppliers to national and international brands. Also samples were taken and the scientific analysis revealed that both manufacturing facilities were discharging a range of hazardous chemicals into the Yangtze and Pearl River Deltas. The substances included persistent chemicals with hormone-disrupting properties, further alkylphenols (including nonylphenol) and perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs ). Many of those substances found are regulated in the Global North, e.g. within the EU or by international conventions.

Both Chinese companies act as suppliers to well known global brands such as Abercrombie & Fitch, Adida, Bauer Hockey, Calvin Klein, Converse, Cortefiel, H&M, Lacoste, Li Ning, Meters/bonwe, Nike, Phillips-Van Heusen Corp. (PVH Corp.), Puma. Youngor is linked with a number of other Chinese and international brands. When such customer companies were confronted with the Greenpeace results, respectively confirmed the commercial business relationship with Youngor Group, the companies Bauer Hockey, Converse, Cortefiel, H&M, Nike and Puma informed Greenpeace that they make no use of the wet processes of Youngor Group for their production of their garments.

Greenpeace pleads that brand owners are the best placed to bring about change in the production of textiles and clothing through their choices of suppliers, the design of their products and the controls they can exert over the use of chemicals in the production process and the final product.

The above mentioned brand owners vary greatly in their approach to environmental sustainability and corporate social responsibility (CSR), some, such as Li Ning, Bauer Hockey, Abercrombie & Fitch and Youngor deliver little to nothing in view to CSR. They don’t publish a chemicals management policy and they don’t make available a public list of chemicals banned or restricted in their products or during their manufacturing processes. In contrast, sportswear brands Nike, Adidas and Puma (they are considered the leaders on sustainable issues and they submit their rules to external standardisation bodies) and fashion brands such as H&M and apparel companies such as Phillips-Van Heusen, they all publish more detailed information regarding their approach to manage hazardous substances in their products. (to have an idea on the global sportswear market please refer to TextileFuture’s Newsletter of January 28, 2012) The sportswear companies do dispose of detailed restricted substances lists, specifying which substances must not be present above certain limits in their final products, but, on the other hand, there seems to be no evidence that any of the brands implement measures to restrict the release of most hazardous substances in the water via their suppliers’ wastewater discharges and beyond the requirements of local legislation.

The lead to implement responsibility along the textile value chain is also based upon the fact that China is still developing strong legislation and to establish monitoring and enforcement mechanism to deal effectively with the use of hazardous chemicals, and their subsequent discharge into water. TextileFuture adds to this: Producers of chemicals and textile machinery are doing quite a lot to make their products and processes more sustainable and this aspect is not mentioned in the Greenpeace report. However Greenpeace underlines the responsibility and role of brands, leaders and innovators, governments and global citizens.

Greenpeace cites also a recent survey of 15000 people in 15 countries across the two hemispheres and the finding was that water scarcity and water pollution are the two top environmental concerns of the world’s population.

It is worthwhile to read through the “Dirty Laundry” report of Greenpeace, because there are several aspects also covered by other monitoring institutions. TextileFuture considers these conclusions to be of value to all of our readers. The report can be downloaded from the following link:

Please note that there are also two other reports bearing the same title and geared to shoe manufacturing and washing processes.

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