Cotton Looks to Improve Environmental Impact

Cotton Incorporated and Cotton Council International holds conference on sustainable cotton textiles.

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HONG KONG — Existing tools and resources to make cotton textile processing more environmentally friendly and sustainable are being underutilized, according to industry experts.

This story first appeared in the May 26, 2009 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Cotton Incorporated and Cotton Council International’s conference on sustainable cotton textile processing ran May 19 and 20 here and attracted more than 200 manufacturers from 19 countries to exchange ideas on how to better incorporate environmental practices into their businesses.

“To sustain our industry we must sustain our environment,” said J. Berrye Worsham, president and chief executive officer of Cotton Inc., prior to the event. “Doing so requires using less to make more.”

The conference was spurred by the conclusion of a two-year study by the importer support program of the Cotton Board and Cotton Inc. that set out to determine what technologies needed to be developed to reduce the environmental footprint of cotton processing. Mark Messura, executive vice president of global supply chain for Cotton Inc., said the research determined many of the technologies already exist.

“We do not have to wait,” he said. “Cotton is the leading natural fiber in the world. The supply chain — from chemicals and yarns to retailers and brands — all have a responsibility to address responsible textile manufacturing and processing.”

The conference featured 28 speakers from Europe, Asia and the U.S., sharing ideas on everything from water reduction and recycling, to ozone bleaching, recycling of dryer exhaust and energy efficiency. Tony Webber, sales director at U.S.-based Adaptive Control, was in Hong Kong to demonstrate how companies can retrofit machinery to reduce environmental impact.

“There was a big influx of equipment [to Asia’s manufacturers] 12 to 15 years ago,” Webber said. “It works, but it’s dying. There is a lot that can be done to retrofit existing machines, which costs a lot less than buying new ones.”

Dutch biotech company Genecor collaborated with Swiss textile dyeing firm Huntsman on a new enzyme-based bleaching technique introduced two months ago. Lode Vermeersch, global head of Huntsman’s textile effects division, said the company’s Gentle Power Bleach technique reduces the temperature needed for boiling to 65 degrees Celsius from 100 degrees Celsius, as well as reducing the pH level to neutral from an average of 11 to 12.

“The whole benefit reduces chemical use and water use and at the same time improves performance,” said Vermeersch. “More of the natural benefits of the fiber are retained. Traditional methods strip the fiber and so many of the qualities have to be put back in.”

Pat Nie Woo, chairman of the Hong Kong-based Sustainability Fashion Business Consortium, said economic considerations have to be put into perspective.

“The global economy has had its effect on textile manufacturing across Asia,” said Woo. “However, this does not mean that environmental concerns have been forgotten. In many ways, economic and environmental concerns are now intertwined.”

Woo also noted many solutions already exist in the market.

“The technology is out there, it’s available,” Woo said. “The problem is the hurdles in implementing them. But we can’t wait anymore. Most [hurdles] are money-related. There is an obsession with getting the cheaper goods, but that’s not what’s best for everybody else.”

Cotton Inc. has also launched two sustainability themed Web sites to highlight the environmental progress the cotton industry is making. Cotton Today, at cottontoday.cottoninc.com, will present how the cotton industry is using technology and other innovations to make cotton production and manufacturing more environmentally friendly.

The second Web site will be “Cotton. From Blue to Green” at cottonfrombluetogreen.org, and will serve as the platform for Cotton Inc.’s annual denim drive. Each year, the Blue to Green program collects used denim, which is then converted into a natural home-insulation product. The insulation is donated to communities in the Gulf Coast region of the U.S. The Web site will feature a counter of the number of jeans collected and how many homes have been built using the insulation. It will also explain the process behind turning used jeans into insulation.


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