According to one estimate, the fashion and textile industry is responsible for around 10% of global GHG (Greenhouse Gas) emissions, making fashion one of the world’s top industry polluters and contributors of Co2 into the atmosphere.
Fashion & Textiles has a significant impact on the environment due to its intense use of resources, such as water, energy (oil, gas, electricity, fuel, transport) and let’s not forget labour. There are a multitude of materials used in fashion, too many to mention in this article. So, let me use two examples – starting with cotton, which starts its life from farming all the way to the finished material. The cotton process from farm to material, as you can imagine, involves many process steps and passes through multiple partners by the time it’s converted into the finished material.
From natural fibres to finished materials
First, the cotton seeds are planted in fields and carefully tended, consuming large amounts of water, pesticides, fertilisers as the crop grows. Once the cotton plants are mature, they are harvested using mechanical cotton-picking machinery & equipment, which removes the cotton fibres from the plant. The fibres are then ginned; this process separates the seeds from the fibres, and the cotton then goes through dryers to reduce moisture content and then through cleaning equipment to remove foreign matter. It’s not possible for me to call out each resource used in each process, but as you might imagine every process step incurs different resources that in turn contribute to the total GHG/Co2 emissions, from the farm to material manufacturing.
Next, the fibres are cleaned and sorted according to their quality. The best fibres are used to make high-quality products & textiles, while the lower-quality fibres are used for things like padding and insulation. After the fibres are cleaned and sorted, they are spun into yarn or thread linked to specific gauge and strength requirements. The yarn or thread is then woven or knitted into fabric, to make a wide variety of fashion and textile related products. Again, contributing to the total GHG/Co2 throughout the entire life cycle.
Finally, the fabric is finished by undergoing various processes such as pre-treatments, dyeing, printing, (wet dye or digital dyeing) plus any finishing treatments. Each of these steps and the choices taken by designers and development teams are critical to defining the Co2 impact calculations.
From synthetic fibres to finished materials
Polyester is a type of synthetic polymer that is created through a chemical reaction between a dicarboxylic acid and a diol. This reaction, known as polycondensation, produces long chains of molecules known as polymers. The exact process for creating polyester materials varies depending on the specific type of polyester being made, but generally involves mixing the dicarboxylic acid and diol together in a reaction vessel, along with other chemicals and catalysts. The mixture is then heated and stirred to promote the polycondensation reaction, and the resulting polymer is filtered, washed, and dried to create the final polyester material.
As with the natural materials like cotton, there are many processes that require large amounts of resources, that are adding to the total GHG/Co2 emission calculations for a given contract/order. Using the latest PLM-BOP (bill of process) tracking each operation, machinery types, machine throughputs, resource type and usage, PLM is now able to measure the Co2 impact at both secondary and primary levels.
When added together these processes use a tremendous number of resources that combined expel tons of CO2 into the atmosphere.
Transport of raw materials to mills, manufacturing, and brand facilities
To arrive at a scientific impact measurement, we also need to calculate transportation – including raw materials coming from farms, or chemical producers to the mills that knit, or weave materials, that in turn are transported onto the manufacturer to produce finished products before these are ultimately shipped again to the distribution centres, stores or transported direct from warehouses to the consumer. Each of these logistics steps contributes further to the total greenhouse gas emissions.
Every step including design, sampling, development, manufacturing incurs transportation, and each with its own deeper complexities (split orders, multiple sourcing locations, geographies, to the last mile!) that all need to be calculated when it comes to science-based CO2 impact measurements.
When calculating the CO2 impact, we first need to consider the different methods and mixed options of transportation (Air, Sea, Overland), types of fuel used by each or a combination of these transport methods, and of course the miles/kilometres travelled before materials and products reach their destination. And then there’s the cost of fuel at each of the points of fuelling.
Manufacturing and Co2 calculations
In this example I will stay with woven materials, where the process of manufacturing starts with manually batching the materials for width and shading before moving on to Spreading and Cutting (Manual or Numerically Controlled Cutting Machines). The parts are then matched ready for pre-assembly (machining, pressing & finishing) of clothing, footwear, accessories, bags, and other related fashion items. When added together these processes use a tremendous number of resources that, combined, expel tons of CO2 into the atmosphere.
Concerns relating to current facilities Co2 measurements
My concern with the present methods of measuring the fashion industry’s impact on total Co2, is that it is only capable of using generic aggregated data (secondary datatypes). This means that the final calculation is built on estimates & averaging, operating at the facilities level (mill, chemical plant, factory, warehouse, etc), and lacks the necessary requirements and complexities relating to processing data, and primary data (actual data) coming from the original source i.e., brand, farm, chemical plant, mill, or factory). This negatively impacts the industry’s ability to deliver meaningful scientific-based measurements that can be used to support a brand’s goal of quantifying and then reducing its total greenhouse gas emissions.
One way to measure the greenhouse gas impact of fashion is by using lifecycle assessment (LCA), which is a technique used to evaluate the environmental impact of a product or service throughout its entire life cycle, from raw material extraction to disposal. LCA’s can be used to assess the greenhouse gas emissions associated with different stages and processes of the fashion industry, such as the production of raw materials, manufacturing, transportation, and end of life disposal of clothing.
Another approach to measuring the greenhouse gas impact of fashion is to calculate the carbon footprint of individual materials, trims, components, and their processes at a material, product, order, or collection level. A carbon footprint is a measure of the total greenhouse gas emissions associated with a particular material, product, or activity. By calculating the carbon footprint of fashion materials and products, companies and consumers can better understand the environmental impact of their choices and make more informed decisions, based upon ‘scientific measurements’.
How can PLM and partner companies support scientific Co2 impact measurements
The good news is that we can now scientifically measure the Co2 impact at both material and product level, capturing data throughout the design, development, and production processing. Measuring a material’s Co2 impact on a per meter basis and providing unique education on sustainable choices relating to the BOM (Bill of Materials), BOP (bill of process) and BOL (Bill of Labour), these new and exciting related capabilities can help educate designers, developers, and their tier 1, 2, 3, and 4 partners on their choices, including which are the most sustainable materials, or processes linked to their total CO2 impact emission calculations.
Extended PLM partnerships delivering Co2 impact calculations
Once we arrive at our material choice, then the designers can add colour options, with lighter colours requiring less dyestuffs versus mid/darker colours requiring more dyestuffs, chemicals, and extended processing times. Each of their choices including volumes will make a considerable effect on the total Co2 impact measurements. Today at least one PLM vendor has partnered with Made2Flow & Frontier Cool to develop extended PLM BOM capabilities, material Co2, process choices and volume calculations. Each of these choices and decisions along the material or products lifecycle will have a significant impact on the total CO2 products emissions and will not only go down to the material level, but can also be rolled up to a product, and can be further expressed as a total contract or order level Co2 report.
Beyond materials and processing options, PLM can now start to measure machine production resource usage (oil, electricity, gas, air, others), machine processes, motor speeds the total AMP’s & wattage usage.
Co2 impact measurement accuracy levels
PLM solutions can be configured to use generic secondary data (standard best-practices) to support the calculations of a material, or product’s carbon footprint (Co2 greenhouse gas emissions) and provide a detailed analysis of the greenhouse gas emissions associated with each stage of the product’s life cycle.
If a brand requires greater accuracy levels of Co2 impact measurements, then primary data is required, this is the actual data which comes direct from each of the brands (Tier 1,2,3, and 4) partners, including details of their machinery, processing capabilities, throughputs, resources, etc.
Today PLM Co2 partner companies are now managing over four million process data points, which are growing by the week!
In addition to supporting carbon footprint measurement, PLM solutions, when fully configured and integrated to critical Co2 partner technologies, can help brands identify opportunities for reducing their greenhouse gas emissions prior to committing to the final design, sampling, and developments. For example, PLM will be able to provide designers with sustainability insights for the very ‘first time’ during the design process, using an embedded Co2 calculator that identifies materials, and processes that have the highest environmental impact, allowing designers to make more informed sustainable choices in their material or product design and development processes.
Up and till this point, very few designers or developers truly understand how their choices of materials, colour options, pre-treatments, or finishes of materials have on the total Co2 impact measurements, and the same can be said for the final production methods (spreading, cutting, pre-assembly, sewing, pressing, and finishing) that are all critical stages of producing fashion products, and all of which impact the total Co2 measurements.
In addition to calculating the product’s carbon footprint, the PLM solution will also be able to provide detailed analysis of the environmental impact reports at each stage of the product’s life cycle. This will help the brand and manufacturing companies identify opportunities based on the lessons learnt and changing to smart informed sustainable choices linked to design, development, sourcing, and manufacturing with the combined aim of reducing their total greenhouse gas emissions.
We have arrived at an exciting new chapter when it comes to GHG/Co2 emission calculations, genuinely a ‘first of a kind’ breakthrough in science-based measurements. It’s time for the fashion industry to use a PLM solution as part of their environmental and sustainability strategies, helping brands to operate more sustainably and mitigate their impact on the environment.
Finally, and frankly speaking, PLM is the only technology platform today that can bring together complex partner datasets into a single lifecycle solution from material to the finished product. Supporting the entire lifecycle (designers, product developers, material & trims developers, colourists, costing teams, sourcing, manufacturers, mills, trims & component suppliers, weavers, knitters and dye houses, farmers, and chemical suppliers). When operating together will enable science-based calculations relating to their design, development, manufacturing, and ultimately their Co2 emissions choices in near real-time!