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BIELLA – Efforts by European regulators to rank the environmental impact of clothing are ignoring climate change. This was a key message on the opening day of this year’s Natural Fibre Connect conference being staged in Biella, Italy.

Independent researcher and analyst, Veronica Bates Kassatly, told delegates the Product Environmental Footprint (PEF), the tool the European Union plans to use to measure fashion’s environmental footprint, is not fit for purpose – and likely never will be. 

PEF includes 16 impact categories including land and water use, ozone depletion and human toxicity. However, Bates Kassatly suggested, “climate change is here and it trumps all else.”

“Surely when we evaluate the environmental impact of apparel purchases, the most important [issue] should be climate change,” she added. “In fashion, should we even be considering other impacts?”

The event has brought together stakeholders from global natural fibres industries, including cotton, wool, alpaca, mohair and silk. 

Natural fibres industries have faced challenges regarding environmental impacts in recent years. PEF, for instance, appears to have fallen into the same trap as the Higg MSI in that it fails to adequately account for the obvious benefits of natural fibres, such as biodegradability, while ignoring the negative impacts of synthetic fibres, including microplastics.

Interestingly, the EU just this week announced measures to restrict intentionally added microplastics. It is unclear if or how this will apply to textiles and apparel, however. 

Jeanette Cook, IWTO communications manager with the IWTO, was presenting at the event on behalf of Make the Label Count. MTLC represents a diverse range of natural fibres industries as well as non-profits and environmental groups.

“Our main message is that PEF can be improved with a microplastics indicator, a plastic weight indicator and a circularity indicator.”

MTLC continues to lobby the EU on issues including the Green Claims Directive and proposals for Eco Design regulations.

The event also touched on rumours that a major US media outlet plans to run a piece in the coming weeks making the (somewhat bizarre) claim that natural fibres activists have run a coordinated effort to take down the Sustainable Apparel Coalition. Watch this space.

Speaking on behalf of the silk industry, Maurizio Marchi, Innovhub technical and operations manager spoke about a new lifecycle analysis (LCA) which has been carried out on silk.

The aforementioned Higg MSI has infamously ranked silk as the least sustainable textile fibre in the world – and polyester the most sustainable.

Marchi said the Higg MSI for silk focused on silk production in India, while most silk production takes place in China.

The new LCA is a collaboration between researchers in Italy, France and China and is cradle to grave rather than cradle to gate.

Data is being collected from 33 companies and, while it is still in the process of being validated, it shows that mulberry yields for silk production are higher in China than India while water consumption is almost zero due to the use of irrigation.

More updates to follow on this event.

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