Dirk Vantyghem (Source:Euratex)
The environmental impact of “textiles” is high, according to most rankings; this applies to the use of natural resources (esp. water), the amount of textile waste (with limited recycling volumes) and the use of fossil energy.
Over the past 20 years the European textile industry has already reduced its fossil fuel-based energy intensity by more than 60 %. Notwithstanding these efforts, the textile industry is committed to continue and possibly intensify its efforts to further decarbonize. However, since the low-hanging fruits have already been picked, further transformation to a low-carbon textile industry will largely depend on new breakthrough technologies.
In several stages of its supply chain
like fiber production, spinning, weaving, production of nonwovens or finishing, the textile industry is dependent on the use of fuels like natural gas and electricity, which inevitably lead to the emission of greenhouse gases (GHGs). This energy and electricity usage can only be further lowered by improving energy efficiency following the investment cycles in machinery and aggregates. To decarbonize these activities new technologies are needed and will require substantial investments, but which will be difficult to sustain in a very competitive environment.
For those GHG emissions which remain after using all options of improving energy efficiency, the industry has to find answers as to how these emissions can be brought down to zero or at least be compensated, e.g. by climate certificates. Currently technical solutions like Carbon Capture and Usage (CCU) are economically not viable or cannot be implemented in present installations.
This transformation also needs to be considered in a broader global environment in which the European Textile industry operates and that is characterized by a fierce competition. Therefore solutions have to be found which take into account the international competitiveness of our industry and prevent carbon leakage.
Right now, European textile and clothing companies
are confronted with sky rocketing energy prices and CO2 prices. At the peak of the crisis, costs of gas increased from € 20/kWh to over € 300/kWh, an increase of 1,500 %, which is impossible to pass on to customers due to the severe competition. Several textile companies have already announced a (temporary) production stop, to minimize the financial impact of such high energy costs.
In the long run, Euratex agrees that Europe needs to move towards green energy and a climate neutral economy. However, such transformation will require access to very significant amounts of renewable energy at competitive costs at European or national levels. To provide that, the EU and Member States also need to invest in new infrastructures that will guarantee access to these supplies.
The Ukraine war has accelerated that transformation process.
By May 2022, the Commission will propose a “RePowerEU” plan to become less dependent on supplies from non-EU countries and put green energy on the fast track. In the meantime though, the European Union and Members States should compensate the situation by supporting their economies and industries. Companies need access to energy at reasonable prices, may those be subsidies, removing environmental levies, or VAT from bills and price caps. On March 23, the Commission has presented a framework that will allow state aid measures to be taken by each member state. We must ensure these measures do no only benefit energy intensive sectors like steel, cement or fertilizers, but also specific segments of the textile value chain, such as finishing/dying, production of nonwovens and man-made fibers.
Beyond this focus on improved energy efficiency, significant impact on the climate can be made by using new bio-degradable materials and focus on the “smart” design of products, which improve the quality and durability, and facilitate re-use or re-cycle. While many good initiatives are being taken across the industry, further investment in research and innovation is needed in some areas, and improved cooperation within the value chain, e.g. between the retailers and producers, is necessary. But it also requires a clear regulatory framework, including modern standards which define e.g. sustainable products and textile waste.
The EU Textile Strategy and the Sustainable Product Initiative Regulation
– both expected by the end of March – offer a good opportunity to create such a framework and develop a public-private partnership, which will improve the impact our sector on the climate, while maintaining its competitiveness and resilience.
Euratex is reaching out to all stakeholders of the textile ecosystem (including retailers, machine makers, chemical industry, etc.) to build that partnership. We also reach out to our partners and competitors around the globe, in trying to agree on global standards and improve transparency in global supply chains. If we fail to do that, someone else will define the rules and may jeopordize the future of our industry.