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American Textiles: We Make Amazing Sustainability Series

Sustainability Series: Milliken & Company Part of the Discourse on a Circular Economy in Partnership with National Geographic

Milliken President & CEO Halsey Cook

Milliken President & CEO Halsey Cook

Milliken & Company President and CEO Halsey Cook addressed the challenges and opportunities associated with eliminating and recycling waste as part of the National Geographic Circular Economy Forum on February 26 in Washington, DC.

Milliken was a sponsor of the forum, along with Waste Management and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, which brought together approximately 400 leaders from the private sector, nongovernmental organizations and government to address multifaceted solutions aimed at achieving zero waste.

“Closing the loop on waste requires a holistic plan,” Cook said in a statement. “We’re committed to forums and conversations that will lead to aligned, sustainable innovations.”

Susan Goldberg, editorial director of National Geographic Partners and Editor in Chief of National Geographic, led a panel discussion, in which Cook participated, focused on the enablers and barriers of a circular economy.

Goldberg asked Cook to respond to an Op-ed in the New York Times written by Marc Benioff, founder and CEO of Salesforce, in which he declared “Capitalism, as we know it, is dead.”

Cook assured the audience that Capitalism is “alive and well and evolving.”

He said Benioff’s comment “underscores that if you don’t take a view towards the impact of your business across all of your stakeholders, you can pay a huge penalty, which will ultimately impact the shareholder as well. So the bottom line matters, but it’s not the only thing that matters.”

“As time has gone on, what we have seen is that the unintended consequences of businesses that have a blind eye toward their communities or toward the environment end up becoming very risky environments,” Cook said.

Milliken’s CEO said some of the toughest conversations happening at the moment in boardrooms around the world are centered around “mitigating the risk against environmental impact and against societal impacts which could actually decimate your bottom lines in the longer term.”

Earlier in the week, Milliken earned the recognition as one of the “World’s Most Ethical Companies,” a recognition it has been awarded 14 years in a row.

Milliken was selected again by the Ethisphere Institute, a global leader in defining standards of ethical businesses.

A materials science expert, Milliken has a portfolio of industry-leading specialty chemical, performance textiles and floor covering innovations and is one of eight industrial manufacturers to receive this designation in 2020. Only seven companies have received the honor for 14 consecutive years.

“Ethisphere tracks the returns of winners of the award,” Cook said. “The data is very clear that companies that do focus on the right things over time have higher returns than the averages of the S&P 500. I think it is a win-win but it’s hard work to get it all right.”

 

PUBLIC PRESSURE HAS A ROLE TO PLAY

Public pressure on companies to mitigate their impact on the environment has created more urgency to address the issue.

“What we see is that a lot of consumer-oriented companies are making big declarations about recycled content and that is going to create opportunities in the future for more recycling,” Cook said.  “We saw the numbers–such a small and insignificant part of the actual production today turns into recycling.  A lot of that is because there is not value.”

Packaging companies and branded companies have made commitments to increase recycled product to 25 percent and even as high as 50 percent by 2025 to 2030, Cook said.

He said continued consumer pressure will create more recycling streams. The economics change, he noted, when consumers are willing to pay a higher price because they think it is “important enough” to pay those prices for recycled content.

“We are an equity investor in PureCycle Technologies—and the technology continues to improve where we can take recycled content–post-consumer–and turn it into resins that can be used again without creating new resins. That could potentially be sold for a higher price.”

Cook said there is science around the recycling aspect of Milliken’s business, noting there has been a “pivot” within the company’s scientific community, particularly around polymer research.

“You have to break down the molecules and build them up…,” he said. “We don’t actually make plastics, but we make additives, which make them stronger. In that case, when you go through the recycling process, polymers break down and have to be strengthened again. Our team is researching how to facilitate and enable large scale recycling efforts by the global economy.”

 

The company’s award-winning DeltaMaxTM Performance Additive has significantly contributed to improved manufacturing processes with recycled polypropylene, which Milliken said is among the fastest-growing plastic globally.

The additive “balances the product quality and production challenges of manufacturing new products with recycled polypropylene, enabling the use of up to 100% post-consumer and post-industrial recycled polypropylene resins from which new products are made,” Milliken said.

 

EUROPE’S EXTENDED PRODUCER RESPONSBILITY

Manufacturers and retailers of plastic products are held financially responsible in the European Union under the concept of “Extended Producer Responsibility,” for dealing with their products once they hit the waste stream, Goldberg noted.

Asked if the concept should ultimately be part of the plastic waste solution in the United States, Cook said he thinks it does have a role.

“It motivates people to return products,” he said. “There are sub-economies that emerge as a result. We’ve seen the success of that with the aluminum can business in the U.S. States that have deposits on bottles can see recycled at rates as high as 60-70 percent versus low single digits in states that do not. It’s definitely a trigger that needs to be thought about.”

 

LOOMING PLASTICS LEGISLATION

“We are going to start to see increased legislation,” Cook said.

The CEO was on Capitol Hill on Wednesday and said there are at least two active plastics bills “coming online.”

Cook pointed to laws around banning and curbing single-use plastics in several states and noted the “environment is going to change.”

But he warned that decision makers have to start determining “what we are solving for.”

“It’s very easy to [say we should] eliminate plastics, but then you might replace that with materials which actually have a big disadvantage from a carbon footprint,” Cook said.

“In this conversation of trash you have to remember that we’ve got an existential threat around climate change,” he added. “What are we trying to solve for? Is it plastics in the ocean? You need to focus on Asia. Is it recyclability? That’s part of the reason we find this forum so exciting. We get a chance to mingle with a lot of different people in the value chain and get their views on it.”

 

 

American Textiles: We Make Amazing Sustainability Series

Sustainability Series: Apparel Industry Group Launches Project to Move Textile Industry from Linear to Circular

A broad apparel industry coalition is taking the issue of textile waste head on as the industry continues to explore the next generation of textiles.

The apparel industry group has launched a new collaborative project under the banner of Accelerating Circularity, with a mandate of eliminating textile waste in the supply chain.

The U.S. textile industry has made significant strides in eliminating industrial waste and incorporating technologies to recycle waste in its operations over the past several years.

“The new project seeks to move the industry beyond solely addressing post-industrial waste to developing new practices and technologies for post-consumer waste to reduce the millions of tons of waste in landfills” said Tricia Carey, Director of Lenzing’s Global Business Development Apparel and Secretary of the Accelerating Board of Directors.

“The Environmental Protection Agency reports that 15 million tons of textile waste is generated annually in the United States alone,” the Accelerating Circularity group said in a statement today.

NCTO members Unifi and Lenzing, are among the founding project partners, which also include Gap Inc., Giotex, Gr3n, Target, VF Corp, Revolve Waste and Fabrikology International Inc. This group represents a broad industry-based coalition of technology providers, fiber manufacturers, textile waste and supply chain experts and brands and retailers.

The group said its aim is to “accelerate the textile industry’s move from linear to circular.”

The Accelerating Circularity founding project partners include Gap Inc., Giotex, Gr3n, Target, VF Corporation, Lenzing, Unifi, Revolve Waste and Fabrikology International, Inc., representing technology providers, fiber manufacturers, and experts in textile waste and supply chains, as well as brands and retailers.

“In 2017 LENZING™ launched TENCEL™  Lyocell with REFIBRA™ technology, using cotton scraps to make new lyocell fiber and we continue to support industry initiatives to drive textile to textile recycling,” said Tricia Carey. “Accelerating Circularity developed out of supply chain and brand discussions of how we can facilitate collaboration and mapping a new route together.”

Carey said textile companies and experts will provide advice and input on how the industry must change.

“Essentially for Lenzing the consumer will become our raw material supplier,” she said. “This is a big change as we consider the next generation of textiles. With circularity you need everyone. This breaks the silos and you have to think about impact to keep cycling materials.”

“Shifting the apparel industry toward more circular solutions is a complex challenge with significant technical, economic, and business implications,” said Alice Hartley, Senior Manager of Sustainable Innovation at Gap Inc. and board member of Accelerating Circularity. “At Gap Inc., we have a responsibility to protect the environment and reduce waste at every stage of our production process – from design, to sourcing, to manufacturing. As we address the full life cycle of our garments, we look forward to working with these partners to collaborate, advance efforts and share learnings with the wider industry for the health of our planet.”

Accelerating Circularity’s board members include, Tricia Carey of Lenzing, Alice Hartley of Gap Inc., Beth Jensen of VF Corporation, Karla Magruder of Accelerating Circularity, Eileen Mockus of Coyuchi, and Laila Petrie of 2050.

Partner organizations include American Apparel & Footwear Association, Apparel Impact Institute, Circle Economy, Outdoor Industry Association, Textile Exchange, The Renewal Workshop, and United States Fashion Industry Association.

American Textiles: We Make Amazing Sustainability Series

American Textiles: We Make Amazing Sustainability Series – Unifi, Inc.

North Carolina-based Unifi Inc., a global producer of synthetic and recycled performance fibers, has been a leader in the industry—not only through its corporate culture and REPREVE® recycled performance fibers, which have touched every corner of the apparel supply chain, but also through campaigns and collaborations with organizations to raise awareness of the corporate stewardship aimed at mitigating the impact of manufacturing processes on the environment.

The company’s recycling efforts have been driven and widely adopted by the entire apparel supply chain.

Unifi’s REPREVE brand, launched in 2007, has transformed more than 19 billion plastic bottles into recycled fiber for new clothing, shoes, home goods and other consumer products made by leading brands. The company is on track to hit its goal of 20 billion plastic bottles in 2020.

Jay Hertwig, Unifi’s Senior Vice President of Global Sales and Marketing

The brand uses 45% less energy, 20% less water, and has reduced greenhouse gases by 30% versus virgin polyester production, according to Jay Hertwig, Unifi’s Senior Vice President of Global Sales and Marketing. The company’s total recycling of 20 billion bottles will offset the use of petroleum needed to produce virgin fiber, conserving 323.4 million gallons of water.

“REPREVE was born through a manufacturing excellence project where Unifi was trying to determine how we could be more efficient from an overall manufacturing standpoint. Even though we have a high production efficiency rate, we still produce waste,” Hertwig said. “We developed a product made from 100% waste in 2007.  Patagonia and Polartec started demand for Repreve as Patagonia was looking for fleece with recycled content.”

REPREVE has come a long way in just a decade. The number of customers using Unifi’s recycled fibers has grown significantly—from those two brands in 2007 to more than 700 brands globally, according to Hertwig.

Moreover, Unifi has invested heavily in recycling technologies and manufacturing—more than $150 million—over the past decade.

The company now operates its own recycling center in Yadkinville, N.C., which opened in 2010, as well as the REPREVE Bottle Processing Center, a $28 million investment, which opened in 2016.

“We continue to grow our REPREVE production year over year. It has become almost 40 percent of the total production at Unifi today.”

Asked whether Unifi could achieve 100 percent REPREVE production, Hertwig said “Once we started to see demand grow for REPREVE, our vision formed to one day run 100 percent recycled REPREVE production. It’s a lofty goal that comes with many challenges, but one we still strive to meet.”

“As we continue to invest in sustainable and recycling technologies, Unifi expects a larger portion of our production will be REPREVE-based in the future.”

 

Green Movement and Congressional Scrutiny

As consumer awareness, activism around pollution and calls for more eco-driven products continue to deepen, lawmakers are also increasing scrutiny of plastic pollution in particular and considering proposals to curb it. Some experts have warned that similar bills could be proposed to target microfiber pollution from petroleum-based materials such as polyester, acrylic and nylon.

Hertwig addressed some of the underlying concerns from a sustainability perspective within the context of the end-goal that Unifi is pursuing—curbing pollution through recycling, while creating more cost-savings and efficiencies.

“There are many opportunities for increasing recycling, especially in the United States, where the recycling rate is less than 30 percent. Recycling around the rest of the world is much higher,” Hertwig said.

“We are actively working with our customers and our stakeholders to explore potential impacts that microplastics and microfibers have on the environment. All the while, we remain dedicated to diverting billions of post-consumer plastic bottles, and textile waste, from oceans and landfills. We feel this is one of the most effective ways to mitigate plastic pollution, including microplastics, and to help to shift our economy from linear to circular,” Hertwig added.

As more attention is paid to microfiber pollution in synthetic clothing, companies are taking a closer look at solutions, investing in testing and exploring the effects of fiber shedding.

“We’re working with some brands that are doing research around microfiber pollution. It is a challenge to be overcome—to prevent loose fibers—but laundry equipment manufacturers offer some solutions in terms of removable filter systems,” Hertwig said. “The majority of our production is filament yarn, and if the yarn and fabric is processed in the right way, the fabric doesn’t shed.”

Unifi is on track to meet its goal of recycling 20 billion plastic bottles by 2020 using its REPREVE® technology.

 

Champions of Sustainability

Hertwig said Unifi’s REPREVE brand is expected to have another good year.

“We are definitely seeing more and more demand in various supply chains that we have around the world for REPREVE and recyclable material in general.”

Unifi launched its sustainability awards in 2017 to recognize brands, retailers and textile partners that are committed to sustainable sourcing.

Unifi announced the recipients of its Third Annual REPREVE Champions of Sustainability Awards on Thursday, Feb. 13.

The awards were given to 26 brand and retail partners that transformed 10 million or more recycled bottles and 42 textile partners that each transformed 50 million or more bottles through the use of REPREVE performance fibers.

Unifi recognized several companies, including H&M which recycled more than a half billion bottles and Walmart and Quicksilver, which reached the quarter billion bottle milestone.

“What we wanted to do with Champions of Sustainability is recognize brands, retailers and fabric suppliers, and highlight their efforts in producing eco-friendly sustainable material with REPREVE,” Hertwig said. “It generated such a level of interest in the supply chain, that many brands, retailers and mills contacted us to learn more about how to be recognized for using Repreve. As the sustainability movement started to grow within their organizations, they wanted to make sure they were getting credit. It has been a surprisingly successful program.”

At the end of the day, Hertwig said Unifi aims to create a higher level of awareness. The REPREVE tagline is “For the Good of Tomorrow.”

“Part of our goal is to create awareness and also educate as many customers and consumers about the importance of recycling through our different marketing campaigns and event appearances,” he said. “We’ve been doing that with our REPREVE national mobile tour, which is relaunching later this spring. It’s traveling across the United States to brands, retailers and different sporting events promoting the importance of recycling, while showing consumers how a bottle can become a pair of shoes, a jacket or automotive seat material.”

Unifi’s REPREVE® on display outside of their factory in Yadkinville, North Carolina.

American Textiles: We Make Amazing Sustainability Series

American Textiles: We Make Amazing Sustainability Series

The U.S. textile industry’s investment in sustainability and the “circular economy” comes at a pivotal time.

Consumer demand continues to grow for eco-friendly products, legislators and regulators are taking a hard look at environmental issues across manufacturing industries, and executives across a broad industry spectrum are making sustainability a pillar of their business models.

For years, domestic textile producers have been developing effective sustainable technologies, practices and products to address the myriad challenges associated with reducing manufacturing waste, water and energy consumption, and greenhouse gas emissions—moves that have helped curb environmental impact.

While there is ample anecdotal evidence showing that the steps textile companies are taking in the U.S is reducing waste, water and energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, no academic or scientific studies exist to date that measure either the impact in the U.S. in aggregate.

However, scores of U.S.-based textile producers, brands and retailers publicly highlight their sustainability goals, commitments, policies and products on their websites.

Most industry executives and experts cite the Ellen MacArthur Foundation as the best credible source for measuring global textile and apparel pollution. China, which has a poor environmental track record and relies largely on coal-based energy, is the number one supplier of apparel imported to the U.S.

According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, the global supply chain is accountable for consuming 98 million tons of non-renewable resources—from the oil used in synthetic fibers to pesticides and fertilizer in cotton production. Globally, the textile industry uses 93 billion cubic meters of water annually, including cotton farming, according to an Ellen MacArthur Foundation study in 2017. In addition, the Circular Fibres initiative (a consortium of NGOs, philanthropists, brands, and cities cited in the MacArthur report) estimates the global textile industry generated 1.2 billion tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually.

Experts warn that all stakeholders both here and abroad will continue feeling the pressure to make greater progress in the years to come.

U.S. textile executives fully understand the drive for sustainability, which often yields benefits in the form of cost-savings and increased efficiencies, and many are at the forefront of the country’s recycling efforts, conservation efforts and advanced technology developments.

Against that backdrop, NCTO is launching a blog series on sustainability that will feature interviews with several textile executives and experts to highlight the industry’s progress, while also outlining challenges companies face in the quest to ultimately contribute to a cleaner environment.