Politicians and economy have set a target of limiting global warming to 1.5°C and reducing CO2 emissions in the fashion industry by 30% by 2030. Practical solutions that are scalable on a large scale are now required. Since January 2015 Georg Dieners is Secretary General at Oeko-Tex Association, Zurich/Switzerland. We spoke to him about Oeko-Tex’s way to a sustainable world in the textile industry.
What has changed at Oeko-Tex since the introduction of Oeko-Tex Standard 100 in 1992?
Enabling consumers and companies to make responsible decisions for them which also protect our planet for future generations has always been our mission. During the last 3 decades this topic has luckily become more and more relevant within society and politics. As scientific data continually improves the collective knowledge on how we can protect the planet as our living source, we continually use these data to ensure our Oeko-Tex portfolio is always up to date. Therefore, in addition to the Standard 100 by Oeko-Tex we introduced a variety of standards, which gain more and more interest each year:
Similar to the Standard 100 by Oeko-Tex, which is one of the world’s best-known labels for textiles tested for harmful substances, the Leather Standard by Oeko-Tex is also one of the product labels. It refers to leather articles of all stages of production including the accessory materials used.
Our Made in Green by Oeko-Tex product label includes the first 2 product labels and also guarantees that the textile or leather product has been manufactured using sustainable processes under social working conditions. This is done through certification according to STeP by Oeko-Tex (Sustainable Textile & Leather Production), our production facility certification.
Eco Passport by Oeko-Tex is an independent certification system for chemicals, dyes and auxiliary materials used in the textile and leather industry. Last but not least our verification system Detox to Zero by Oeko-Tex aims to implement the criteria of the Detox campaign by Greenpeace in the production facilities. This is not a certification, but an analysis tool for optimizing and monitoring chemical management and wastewater quality.
Are there any new developments in the Oeko-Tex portfolio?
In order to always guarantee companies and consumers the latest standards, all underlying criteria catalogues are updated at least once a year and expanded to include new scientific findings or legal requirements.
Made in Green by Oeko-Tex with its transparent and holistic approach is definitely one of our most relevant standards right now with excellent growth rates. As transparency is one of the biggest challenges – and demands – of the industry right now, the pressure on all actors along the textile and leather value chain to measure, understand, report and improve their climate impacts is growing. To achieve the goals pursued by politics and economy of limiting global warming to 1.5°C and reducing CO2 emissions in the fashion industry by 30% by 2030, practical solutions that are scalable on a large scale are now required.
Promoting this development, we are currently developing the Oeko-Tex Carbon & Water Footprint Tool, which will be integrated into the STeP by Oeko-Tex certification system in 2022. It will help companies to close the current data gap in reporting and, above all, support them in identifying their biggest emission drivers so that they can act precisely and counteract environmental impacts more quickly. In order to provide the most precise data the tool is directly fed from industry insights which will also be continuously adapted in the future to always ensure the most relevant support.
The trend in raw materials is moving toward bio-based materials and also away from petroleum based materials. Is this change also possible for the whole textile industry during the next 20-30 years?
If we would shift the whole industry needs to bio-based materials only, we would have large scale biological issues like land use, animal welfare and many more as well as technical and application issues in terms of technical fibers. Therefore Oeko-Tex never focused on bio-based materials only, but on a global approach to support the whole industry. Here we see big chances within the topic of recycling – our above mentioned LCA tool might only be the beginning of supporting the industry with digital innovations.
What could a sustainable textile and apparel industry look like in future?
First and foremost, we need to invest in transparency to gain a global picture of where we are truly standing. Then we can focus on the most pressing needs. For us true transparency also includes the concerns of social working conditions and human rights. Second topic would be the optimization of the value chain and its fibers. Here circularity and recycling are the most important factors to make an impact. At Oeko-Tex we will always try to support the industry with all our knowledge, but we are also convinced: Overall we need to produce less, but better.
How do you see the role of industry here, and what is the role of the consumer?
The industry has to take responsibility and as I just said with Oeko-Tex we will always try to be a valuable partner. We are convinced that collaboration must be lifted to another level. Industry, politics, and the consumer have to bear their fair share. Especially the consumers still might not be aware on how much power they have as they can influence the industry directly with their purchase decisions. Here we see it as our duty to continually support their actions with information and education.
What will be the biggest challenges for the global textile industry after the corona pandemic?
As in most other industries, sustainability and digitalization are high on the agenda of the international textile and leather industry. In the last 5 years alone, a lot has happened on a voluntary basis, especially in the area of sustainability. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, however, the weaknesses of the mass industry were mercilessly exposed: Whole supply chains were disrupted, an unbelievable excess of products did not even go on sale and an oppressive number of people lost their livelihoods. With these environmental and social challenges, the society and businesses realized that there is a need for a reorientation of the industry: Product lifecycles must be reconsidered and above all products need to be produced in an environmentally and people-friendly manner. Politicians are finally taking action and companies are now beginning - whether voluntarily or driven by consumers and laws - to convert their production.
There is still a very long and probably painful road ahead of us, but we at Oeko-Tex are optimistic that with our approach of using scientific data to improve the industry, we can also contribute to the common good in the long term.
Standard 100 by Oeko-Tex, Leather Standard by Oeko-Tex, Made in Green by Oeko-Tex, STeP by Oeko-Tex, Eco Passort by Oeko-Tex and Detox to Zero by Oeko-Tex – trademarks by Oeko-Tex
The interview was conducted by Mechthild Maas, editor of TextileTechnology.