Along with product quality, sustainability has been one of the top concerns of YKK, long before it became a buzzword in the fashion industry.
With decades of history that showcase a number of sustainable products and actions throughout the years, YKK took a step forward in 1994 with the release of its own Environmental Pledge, to ensure that environmental measures such as reducing water, waste, and chemicals were put into place across all business areas, as well as making positive contributions to ecosystem conservation. This has become a guiding principle for YKK’s development of better operations and new items.
As such, all major YKK factories are certified by ISO 14001, with effective environmental management systems to ensure constant monitoring and reduction of environmental impact, and the group reinforces its global environmental management structure through environmental management audits to maintain and enhance environmental compliance, as well as ensure improvements are made.
YKK recognised with Japan OEKO-TEX® Award
As a starting point, all standard items manufactured at major YKK factories are certified by OEKO-TEX® Standard 100 Class 1, ensuring safety to consumers of all ages. As a global company, many materials are sourced from the manufacturing headquarters in YKK Japan, which received the Grand Prix Award at the Japan OEKO-TEX® Award 2017. This award endorses the quality, safety and regard for the environment embedded in YKK products, and recognises the company’s commitment to promote sustainable fashion globally.
Eco-Friendly zippers at the heart of YKK
YKK pioneered the release of zippers made with recycled material in 1997 with Natulon®, a resource-conserving, recycling-oriented product made from PET bottles, old fibre and other polyester remnants. Currently, the company offers Natulon® zippers in a number of different manufacturing locations, available in both mechanically recycled and chemically recycled polyester.
To illustrate the impact reduction of a recycled polyester product, to create 10,000 pieces of coil zippers that go on a jacket more than 3,600 PET bottles are recycled and used in the manufacturing, giving new life to a material that is otherwise considered as waste by many.
The YKK Natulon® Chemically Recycled Zippers, made from chemically recycled polyester (post consumer), also reduce the need for new materials by employing the most advanced chemical recycling technology. In addition, YKK offers a Natulon® Mechanically Recycled Zipper, designed for customers who want to increase the recycled content of their products, as they are made from recycled materials.
YKK transparent in its sustainable efforts
For nearly two decades, YKK has also actively communicated sustainability efforts to stakeholders by releasing yearly reports. Since 2000, YKK has published an Environmental Report, which later became the Environmental and Social Report, and in 2017, was renamed to ‘This is YKK’ and was made readily available at the YKK group website to offer better transparency. The report highlights the company’s management plans, financial highlights, as well as business activities aimed at the resolution of social or environmental issues.
“When looking at the world, we see many issues that could be an obstacle to the achievement of a sustainable society. Addressing such challenges is a shared mission of companies and a responsibility as a corporate citizen,” said Hiroaki Otani, President of YKK Corporation in the 2019 report. “In particular, environmental issues that should be addressed as a manufatuing company have been summarised as the ‘YKK Group Environmental Vision 2050’, which also takes into account the feelings of Group employees around the world.
Otani added: “We will contribute to a sustainable society by continuing to devote ourselves to corporate activities that are based on the YKK Philosophy – the ‘Cycle of Goodness’."
YKK’s aim to minimise environmental impact on society from the CO2, water, waste, and chemical substances was highlighted in the 2018 report. To address climate change issues such as global warming, the YKK Fastening Group set itself a target of reducing relative CO2 emissions by at least 1 percent every year. In 2018, operations in Japan and overseas achieved 3.1 percent and 2 percent reduction respectively.
Also, in order to increase the transparency of its operations, since 2013, YKK has been active in the Higg Index platform. In 2019, all major YKK factories concluded their self-assessment of the Higg Facility Environmental Module and are able to share it with brands and retailers who are also users of the platform.
In December 2018, YKK (U.S.A.) Inc. also became a member of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC), an industry-wide group working to reduce the environmental and social impacts of products around the world.
Besides environmental management and performance, YKK used ISO26000 guidelines as a reference to create its own overarching set of sustainability criteria in an internal audit framework called YGCC (YKK Global Criteria of Compliance). All worldwide factories are required to carry out an audit every year and implement corrective actions to address audit findings. The audit covers labour conditions, environmental systems, fair business practices, and health and safety.
YKK pushes forward with sustainable products
From 2010, YKK started to ramp up its efforts towards sustainability with the release of a number of innovative products, and engagement with important initiatives and organisations in the apparel industry. One of those developments included the launch of Snaps & Buttons with Environmental Friendly Finish. This technology allows for reduction of resource use, such as water, electricity and thermal energy, as well as the elimination of toxic chemicals which are required in a conventional electroplating process.
Being recognised largely for its high-quality zippers, aside from the products made with regular polyester yarn, YKK offers metal teeth zippers with organic cotton tape, as well as the industry’s only zipper tape made with Lenzing’s Tencel™ fibres.
As water scarcity has become an increasingly pressing issue globally, solution dye zipper tape was launched in 2017, greatly reducing the amount of water needed for zipper manufacturing. YKK is also working on ECO-DYE®, a waterless zipper dyeing technology that relies on a supercritical fluid dyeing process and will ultimately reduce the amount of water use to almost zero.
The company’s most recent development is the plant-based GreenRise™ zipper, where the polyester tape is partially made from molasses, a byproduct in the manufacturing of sugar, thus reducing the use of non-renewable raw materials.
“There is also so much work being done in the background, which is not noticeable in the final product that reaches the consumer, but nevertheless accounts for much of the effort that is needed to truly become a sustainable and responsible manufacturer,” added YKK.
YKK’s partnership with bluesign®
YKK has been a bluesign® system partner since 2012. Participating factories uphold some of highest standards in the textile industry in terms of workplace safety and environmental performance. On the product level, by offering bluesign-approved accessories and trims YKK can reassure the consumer that harmful substances were eliminated right from the beginning of the manufacturing process and the resulting items address the market demand for sustainability.
YKK working to eliminate hazardous chemicals from manufacturing
In recent years, the impact of chemicals used in the supply chain on human health and the environment has gaining greater attention, and YKK has made it a priority to work towards eliminating hazardous chemicals from the manufacturing process and has created ‘YKK RSL’, which is referenced from OEKO-TEX ® and the Manufacturing Restricted Substances List (MRSL) of Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals (ZDHC).
By 2020, YKK aims to eliminate hazardous substances listed in ZHDC MRSL v1.1, including PFC’s, Perfluorinated Compounds, Phthalates, PAH (Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons), VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds), Halogenated Solvents, Surfactant, Organic Tin Compound, PAH (Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons), heavy metals, and other banned dyestuffs.
Looking forward - YKK Vision 2050
Continuing its quest for sustainability in its business, YKK has also recently announced a new YKK Group Environmental Vision 2050, which it states will help “towards a brighter future for nature and humanity”. The Environmental Vision defines the long-term direction for environmental initiatives that the entire YKK Group must take in order to realise a higher level of environmental management, and was developed during multiple workshops conducted with employees as well as from the results of an employee survey conducted in YKK’s six global regions.
The Environmental Vision will go into effect from April 2021 and will contain a number of key goals including responding to climate change by reducing the emissions of greenhouse gases, including CO2, as well as being sustainable with its use of water, by cutting back the volume of water intake and reducing the environmental load in waste water.
Since the YKK Group manufactures many products, including zippers, various types of resources that constitute raw materials are essential. To ensure that YKK will be able to stably continue supplying products well into the future, they will be acting to maximise effective utilisation of non-renewable resources, as well as take initiatives to recycle the waste materials generated throughout the entire life cycle of its products.
The final action point as part of its YKK Vision 2050 is to create a “symbiosis with nature” by engaging in activities to protect the natural environment and reduce its environmental impact.
Images: courtesy of YKK
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