How do I scale my NGO

We don't have a winner of the Alternative Nobel Prize as our guest every day. At our digital C2C Summit Textiles & Supply Chain on January 28th, 2021 that was with a keynote by the author, scientist and environmental and human rights activist Dr. Vandana Shiva the case. Because the all-day summit was about how the global textile value chain can be looped so as not only to waste resources and environmental damage from industry especially in the producing countries of the Global South to end, but also the social consequences of it.

The C2C Summit, with its focus on the Global South, showed one thing very clearly: The global textile industry is facing a fundamental change towards circularity and real sustainability. In view of increasingly scarce resources and global population growth, this is the only way to achieve positive and healthy growth. With representatives from companies and NGOs as well as politicians at the summit, however, we not only discussed the problems of the industry, but also solutions that already exist today. Around 300 people from the textile industry, politics, associations and NGOs as well as civil society had registered for the digital event.

Fast fashion and overproduction lead to growing mountains of rubbish, cause climate damage through greenhouse gas emissions and waste resources, said Dr. Maria Flachsbarth, Parliamentary State Secretary in the Federal Development Ministry (BMZ) in her opening statement. The global textile industry doubled its production volume between 2000 and 2015. At the same time, the sector is responsible for around 10 percent of all CO2 emissions - this corresponds to the amount that Germany, Russia and Japan together emit. In view of the high water consumption of the sector, it is “no surprise that the textile industry is the second largest polluter in the world,” said Flachsbarth. Along with the environmental damage and waste of resources, there was a negative impact on working conditions, which COVID-19 would have exacerbated. A textile sector is therefore needed that uses a minimum of resources, avoids the creation of waste and recycles fibers, said the CDU politician.

“Cradle to Cradle can help us achieve a circular economy in the textile sector. The approach that looks at the production process as a whole and uses intelligent product design aims at closed cycles. The concept is becoming more and more important in the collaboration for sustainable textiles, and also in the development of the Green Button, our state seal for sustainably produced textiles, ”concludes Flachsbarth.

But not only the environmental and resource aspects play a role with Cradle to Cradle as a holistic approach, but also that materials that are processed into textiles are free of any harmful substances. They must not cause damage to health either when they are worn or during manufacture. That is not the case today. In the case of cotton textiles, toxic dyes and pigments or process chemicals ensure that they can be harmful to health. In the case of synthetic fibers, additives and catalysts are also used. Overall, the majority of textiles on the market are unsuitable for skin contact.

“Within a global value chain, it is important what quality all the substances used are - whether fibers, yarns or dyes. We need textiles that are made for skin contact and that can circulate either in a technical or in a biological cycle. In this way we can end the waste of resources and the creation of waste. Especially in those production countries in the Global South where today's environmental pollution from the textile industry has direct social consequences, ”said Nora Sophie Griefahn and Tim Janßen.

In the first panel, Dr. Ulf Jaeckel, Head of the Sustainable Consumption and Product-Related Environmental Protection Unit in the Federal Environment Ministry (BMU), Simone Cipriani, Founder of the Ethical Fashion Initiative and Chairman of the UN Alliance for Sustainable Fashion, Patrik Lundström, CEO & founder of the textile fiber recycler Renewcell and Rob Kracht, Head of CSR Communications & Training Manager EMEA at the French flooring manufacturer Tarkett on the challenges of the textile industry and what adjustments are needed in the political framework in order to address them.

Real prices and initiative

Jaeckel said the awareness that the sector had to become more sustainable had arrived in politics. When implementing measures, the entire value chain must be addressed. “The EU strategy for sustainable textiles, which should be ready by the end of the year, will cover exactly this,” said Jaeckel. The strategy is currently in the consultation phase at EU level. It contains a study on the circular economy in the textile sector, which Cradle to Cradle NGO and Adelphi carried out for the BMZ on behalf of the Society for International Cooperation (GIZ). However, Jaeckel admitted that recyclable design is not yet included in legal standards. The state seals of the Blue Angel and the Green Button are currently being revised. Which criteria are then used also depends on which standards are possible and preferred. "We are also talking to the textile industry because we want them to accept the standards," said Jaeckel. Simone Cipriani was confident that this acceptance would be given for circularity and Cradle to Cradle. “So far, the industry has adapted a few elements of sustainability instead of radically changing its business model. But that is no longer sustainable, because an entire value chain cannot be made sustainable and circular without systemic change, ”he said. Today the industry is thinking about these connections for the first time, as COVID-19 has exacerbated all problems in the industry. For him, the internalization of external costs that have been charged to society through damage to the environment and health must be at the top of the political agenda. This, according to Cipriani, means that investments by large fashion companies in real sustainability and companies that have made no effort could be valued very differently. Patrik Lundström pointed out that in this decade the volume of textile fibers on the market will increase from 110 to 160 million tons. His company Renewcell is now the only supplier of exclusively recycled cellulose fibers and is receiving great interest from the industry and is working with H&M and Levis, among others. “But we are unable to build recycling capacity to the extent that the growth of fibers in the market requires. This is a huge growth opportunity for recycling companies, but we have to scale up and that requires investment in factories, ”said Lundström. It is positive that the EU is working on better collection and recycling systems for textiles. But it must also promote the necessary infrastructure. Meanwhile, Tarkett's Rob Kracht appealed to industry to boldly move forward with circular innovations. The company's fully recyclable carpet tiles were developed without the political framework actually required. “Also at the risk of initially losing money. We need laws and we need to tax pollution and damage to health. But the initiative for change can arise within the industry, ”says Kracht.

In the second panel, the focus was on those regions in which raw materials are grown and processed for global textile consumption. Aneel Kumar Ambavaram, founder & CEO of the smallholder initiative Grameena Vikas Kendram in the Indian province of Andhra Pradesh and the RESET (Regenerate the Environment, Society & Economy through Textiles) program, Tina Stridde, managing director of the Aid by Trade Foundation (umbrella organization of Cotton made in Africa Initiative), Mansoor Bilal, VP Marketing, Research & Innovation of the Pakistani jeans manufacturer Soorty Enterprises and Ebru Debbag, Director Global Sales & Marketing of Soorty Enterprises, exchanged ideas with Katja Hansen, C2C expert and Advisory Board member C2C NGO.

Sustainable agriculture in the Global South helps smallholders there

Ambavaram and Stridde said that today's production and consumption of cotton textiles leads to poverty and environmental pollution, especially in the producing countries. Both initiatives work with small cotton farmers who cultivate sustainable agriculture without genetically modified seeds and pesticides. The initiatives offer further training and, in the case of Cotton made in Africa, organize resale to retail. In the past few years, the average annual household income of cotton farmers in the RESET initiative has risen by 30 percent because the measures have halved the cultivation costs. “It was a big change and a big risk for the farmers to work like this. It's easier to spray pesticides. But our success shows us that we can make a contribution to thinking in cycles right at the beginning of the value chain, ”said Ambavaram. Stridde is convinced that Cotton made in Africa is also successful because the demand for sustainable textiles is increasing. “The topic of sustainability is no longer going away. Consumers think more about the effects of their activities and their consumption. They play an important role and put pressure on dealers and brands, ”says Stridde. One such brand is the Pakistani jeans manufacturer Soorty, which was the first textile manufacturer in the world to be able to certify its entire range, from cotton sewing thread to finished fabrics and garments, according to the Cradle to Cradle standard in gold. Cradle to Cradle is a holistic approach, as it questions the entire life cycle of a product, including the design, says Ebru Debbag. That was also the goal of Soorty's sustainability strategy. The implementation of Cradle to Cradle at Soorty took a good 2 years, said Mansoor Bilal. The goal of Soorty customers to want to bring collections to market quickly, however, has repeatedly made this development difficult. “There were customers who suggested that we should be a little less strict with the implementation and set less strict standards. But that is not the point of sustainability for us, ”says Bilal. In the Global South, the fatal effects of today's textile production are particularly great, said Debbag. "Legislation, also in Europe, has to take these consequences into account," said Debbag.

In the third panel, Friederike Priebe, Team Lead Cradle to Cradle Textiles at EPEA - part of Drees & Sommer, Alexander Meyer zum Felde, Partner & Associate Director, Sustainability & Circular Economy at Boston Consulting Group, Andreas Bothe, as Head of CSR & Sustainability, spoke Bay City Textilhandels GmbH and Mesbah Sabur, co-founder and managing director of the technology company Circularize, on how circular products and business models can be scaled.

Priebe advises companies on the way to product certification according to Cradle to Cradle and supports the necessary conversion of all business processes. Much knowledge about material health has been lost in the textile industry since the 1970s, as the markets became faster and faster and profit was increasingly placed above quality. "One of our goals is not just to create a C2C product, but to scale the process behind it in a company," she said. It is important to think in terms of holistic systems again. Meyer zum Felde accompanied, among other things, C&A in bringing Cradle to Cradle textiles onto the market. "For the first time in three or four years, we have seen that commercial success is directly related to responsible and sustainable behavior," he said. If a brand uses biodegradable bleach, for example, it is twice as expensive as conventional products. On the other hand, in the main producing countries of the textile industry, this resulted in significantly lower costs for the post-treatment of the water used. This also contributed to the fact that C2C textiles from C&A cost the same in stores as conventional items of clothing. Taking your own suppliers with you on the way to Cradle to Cradle in mass production is not always easy, said Andreas Bothe. At least this was the case when Bay City started the first sustainability initiatives in the direction of Cradle to Cradle in 2016. "We were able to persist because our owners fully supported our demands for more sustainability from the suppliers," said Bothe. The company also produces for third parties and was already involved in a C2C project for a large textile retailer in which C2C textile printing inks were used. At the end of the year, a C2C collection will also come onto the market under its own brand. On the way to C2C, it is important to conduct the dialogue between manufacturers and suppliers transparently, said Bothe. The aim of Mesbah Sabur is to support this transparency through technology. With the decentralized blockchain system, Circularise wants to support companies on their way to a circular economy. The blockchain is not the only way to bring transparency into a supply chain, according to Sabur. In the best case, however, such a blockchain is an ideal and secure "open platform to track and also verify the origin and quality of raw materials and materials".

C2C to address climate change

In her final keynote, the human rights and environmental activist, author and scientist Dr. Vandana Shiva again points out that by internalizing external costs, production could be cheaper without wasting resources. Therefore, there is a need for a circular economy with appropriate political incentives on a global level in the textile industry, she said. Human rights violations, damage to health and climate change are ultimately all symptoms of the same crisis: the transgression of planetary boundaries. “We must therefore develop C2C models in order to expand production systems that regenerate biodiversity and reverse climate change,” says Shiva.