12. November 2019
The third bluesign® DIALOGUE event took place on November 12, 2019, in the heart of San Francisco, California. Part education, part discussion, part exploration, the bluesign® DIALOGUE series, which started in April, 2019, is meant to facilitate an open dialogue with anyone who is a stakeholder in the textile value chain — chemical suppliers, manufacturers, converters, and brands, as well as governmental and non-governmental organizations — and to channel that energy into making a positive difference in the textile manufacturing supply chain.
The focus of this latest bluesign® DIALOGUE event was on “Measuring and Communicating Sustainable Progress.” Eighty-four participants from nine countries participated in this day-long event that included presentations, roundtable discussions, a case study, an interview and panel discussion, plenty of opportunities for questions, and as the event name promised, an open dialogue.
Bluesign Intros and Topic Areas
Jill Dumain, CEO of bluesign technologies, started out the event with a welcome. She noted the diversity of the crowd, pointing out, “I’m encouraged by a younger generation diving in and learning about the complexities of the sustainability topic.”
Christian Dreszig, Head of Marketing and Communications for Bluesign, introduced Bluesign and THE BLUE WAY by telling the story of a lake in Switzerland that was heavily polluted by industry and brought back from being declared a dead body of water once government regulations had been put in place. The story brought home the point that some things are invaluable and should be protected, like the water we drink and the air we breathe. It also emphasized that everybody should be concerned about basic human rights like health and safety, not because the government may regulate them some day, but because it’s the right thing to do.
How Chemistry plays a Critical Role in the Circular Economy
Next up, Dr. Thomas Schaefer, Head of bluesign® ACADEMY, led his presentation with a quote:
“Every animal leaves traces of what it was. Man alone leaves traces of what he created.”
Dr. Schaefer spoke on the topic of chemicals and the circular economy — the idea that humans can create less waste, or even no waste — and how chemical impurities can be minimized by implementing Input Stream Management, one of the services offered by Bluesign. He presented the idea that another way to achieve circularity in chemical management is to consider whether a chemical can be recycled or composted, and to consider bio-based alternatives.
Following Dr. Schaefer, but staying on the same topic of recycling bio-based materials, Heidrun Weiss from ERCA S.p.a, a chemical company based in Italy, presented a case study. ERCA launched an initiative that began with the process of collecting vegetable cooking oil from households and restaurants, then upcycling the oil into REVECOL, a new line of auxiliaries used to process textiles. The invention and adoption of REVECOL represented one way to implement circular economy thinking into the textile industry and opened the door to new ways of inventive thinking.
Transparency Through Accurate Reporting
Christian Dreszig also gave a presentation on a new area of environmental reporting. It’s safe to say that every brand aligned with Bluesign is looking for ways to improve their performance and constantly adopt best practices to reduce their impact in four key environmental areas: energy, water, chemistry and CO2 emissions.
Bluesign has built a foundation called eKPIs (Environmental Key Performance Indicators) that uses general best available techniques as a first step, followed by the creation of data sets generated by on-site verified data to establish benchmarks.
Soon companies will be able to not only calculate impacts to their supply chain by using verified data, but also to set goals for impact reduction and resource savings. And for consumers who are asking more, and tougher, questions, brands will now be able to communicate their impacts through verifiable facts as opposed to vague claims that sound more like greenwashing. This reporting will lead to more transparency for brands and trust for consumers.
After Dreszig’s presentation, the audience was broken up into roundtable groups where they had the opportunity to discuss which key performance indicators (energy, water, chemistry, CO2) were the most important to them personally, to their company and to their customers. There were several thought-provoking discussions at each of the tables, and feedback ranged from the specific to the philosophical.
Matt Schwartz, a Color and Material Quality Engineer with Patagonia in Ventura, California, said, “Water is by far the most important indicator for me because of the huge amounts of water that’s wasted through the dyeing process.”
And Jennifer Maloney, Head of Sales & Marketing Europe at SUP Fastener Company in Hong Kong, spoke to the broader issue of outside factors influencing the apparel industry, like low prices and fast fashion, and how a shift needs to occur before brands talk about environmental and social improvements.
“The retail garment industry has been at rock bottom pricing for so long we all need to state what our values are and what we stand for before we communicate how we’re going to address these issues,” says Maloney.
After a presentation from Dr. Schaefer about reducing emissions and then a brief lunch, Dumain facilitated a panel discussion with Dr. Lilia Lohrey, from CHT Germany GmbH, Nikki Player, Raw Material R&D Lead at Everlane, and Kentaro Hara, EVP at Toray Industries. Each panel participant works with Bluesign in different capacities and each spoke to their personal experience with chemical management in the textile industry.
Dr. Lohrey came from the food and pharmaceutical industry and expressed her surprise upon learning that the textile industry is not as regulated as the two other industries.
“When you think about it,” she says, “it’s surprising that clothing, which is in direct contact with your skin—your body’s largest organ—is not as regulated as other industries.”
Player, who chose to work for Everlane because their corporate philosophy is based on transparency in social compliance, supply chain and pricing, spoke about the challenges her company faces when they try to communicate complex topics to their customers.
“It’s about finding a balance between when you want to be a little ahead of your customers and educate them, and when you want to listen,” she says.
Kentaro studied environmental law before working for Toray Industries, a multinational Japan-based company that specializes in industrial products centered on chemistry, and was also surprised that the textile industry was not regulated like heavy industry. He spoke candidly about his initial wariness regarding working with Bluesign.
“At first I was hesitant to work with Bluesign,” said Kentaro, “because our corporate philosophy was already actively promoting environmental conservation. But then I became a convert and our company has been working with them ever since.”
Wrap Up, and a Way Forward
As a reminder to all of the bluesign® DIALOGUE participants, Kutay Saritosun, Director Fashion Brands, and Kevin Myette, Director Brand Services, both for Bluesign, talked about how to take all the knowledge gleaned from Bluesign, along with a passion for being more sustainable, and how to turn that effort and vision into reality.
Myette, who consults with brands that are interested in becoming partners with Bluesign, suggests hiring a dedicated supply chain analyst as most brands don’t really know their supply chain and the hidden environmental dangers. “To start, companies need to prioritize chemical management,” said Myette. “Chemical management is as important as easier-to-see criteria like social compliance.”
At the end of the day, participants of the bluesign® DIALOGUE came away with an understanding that what’s unseen, like the impact chemicals can have, and what’s unknown, like future solutions, are as important as what can be readily seen and known. The goal of the DIALOGUES is to keep all of these topics front and center as supply chain partners work together to make the apparel industry better for people and the planet.