From sustainability to circularity, what's the difference?
25 Jul 2022
The excessive consumption connected to throwaway culture and disposable fashion is no longer in vogue, as consumers increasingly look for brands and companies that care about more than just profits. With awareness surrounding overproduction and textile waste negatively impacting the environment, more brands and companies are taking a closer look at their business models and implementing sustainability strategies. From investing in fibre alternatives to upcycling and cutting down on plastic usage, there are countless different ways textile manufacturers and brands are actively working to be more sustainable. But another concept has been gaining traction that tackles the industry's issues with overproduction and is sustainable at its core - circularity.
Based on three principles driven by design, circularity focuses on reusing materials taken from the planet to produce textiles and garments to make new products, thereby eliminating waste and pollution. Regenerative by nature, circularity is supported by a shift to renewable energy and materials. A circular model which moves away from the linear process of production that most textile and garment companies follow, circularity is a system of frameworks that tackles current environmental issues like climate change, pollution, waste and loss of biodiversity. While some may think of sustainability and circularity as two very different concepts, the two are not as different as one may think. New legislation and proposals driving circularity are being introduced in Europe to help bring around sustainable change in the textile and garment industry. In 2020 the UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) launched the traceability initiative to accelerate the industry’s shift to more sustainable and circular business models. A year later, the UNECE introduced 'the Sustainability Pledge’, a toolkit for measuring the environmental impact of businesses and in March of this year, the European Commission launched the EU Strategy for sustainable and circular textiles. Devised to help create a greener textile industry, the strategy implements the commitments of the European Green Deal, which sees Europe striving to become the first climate-neutral continent by transitioning to a circular economy.
These strategies show that circularity and carbon neutrality are the ideal two-pronged approach to achieving the textile and garment industry's broader sustainability goals. Using more sustainable materials, reducing waste, or cutting down carbon emissions is not long enough to make a real difference. Leading fibre manufacturer Lenzing quickly realised this and has interwoven circularity and carbon neutrality into its sustainability strategy. Aiming to make a positive, substantial contribution to protecting the environment with its customers and partners, Lenzing has set different goals against global warming that align with the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Through its flagship brand of TENCEL™ fibres, which the company now offers in certified carbon neutral form, Lenzing aims to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 by reducing its emissions and using more renewable energy sources, encouraging the industry to source materials with a lower footprint and offsetting unavoidable carbon emissions. By 2030, Lenzing emissions per ton of manufactured pulp and fibres will be reduced by 50 percent compared to 2017.
Developed 30 years ago, TENCEL™ branded fibres are made of cellulose, the core component of plants and trees. Sourced from sustainable forests, the wood pulp is processed in closed-loop systems that use as little energy and water as possible. Taking things one step further, Lenzing developed its pioneering REFIBRA™ technology, which produces TENCEL™ Lyocell fibres by mixing upcycled cotton scraps from garment production with wood pulp, also manufactured under closed-loop processes. This contributes to the circular economy in the textile industry by giving the garment wastes from pre- and post-consumer sources a second life. Resource use and energy are reduced to a minimum, preserving resources and protecting the environment. Lenzing has focused on a “value chain” way of thinking since the launch of its TENCEL™ branded fibres, seeking to implement the same sustainability standards at every stage of production. Actively working with experts and partners to develop innovative solutions, Lenzing works with leading organisations to develop new technologies that further reduce waste. For example, the fibre manufacturer is collaborating with Södra, a world-class pulp producer, to develop a new process that extracts pulp from post-consumer waste. The goal is to process 25,000 tons of textile waste per year by 2025.
Committed to sustainable fibre innovation, net-zero emissions and circularity, Lenzing's sustainability strategy shows that the two go hand in hand. By positively impacting the industry with additional benefits for people and the planet, Lenzing's unique approach contributes to a sustainable future but also its and the industry's future economic success.