At BTI we believe that sustainability is what will make all textile companies successful. All business decisions in these companies need to have in mind what is called the triple-bottom-line: People, Planet, and Profit. Environmental sustainability takes ethical, environmental and socially responsible business structure. These concepts implemented companywide will bring a corporate attitude of sustainability to the corporation.

It is no surprise that more Americans are going green these days. You can hardly watch television, read the news, or go shopping without a reminder that recycling is the number one movement in the business world. In response, companies are finding ways to green their business models. Increasingly, consumers expect and demand it of their favorite brands. Any business can take steps to reduce its footprint to appease consumers (green washing), but successful firms will turn sustainability into a competitive advantage. For these firms in the apparel industry, there are numerous opportunities to save the planet while saving cash and other resources.

Impact of the Industry

The apparel industry in the United States is a $350B a year market. In 2007, Americans purchased 20.1 billion articles of clothing, 95% of which was made elsewhere and imported. The benefit of keeping clothing and other textiles out of the waste stream is twofold: reduction in landfill space required as well as a reduced need for resource-hungry materials such as cotton or polyester. Each year, every American discards an average of 68 pounds of textiles per year. Despite growth in the resale sector of 5% per year, research shows that 85% of discarded clothing ends up in the landfill. Once complete, the garment is then shipped back to the states for sale, having traveled approximately 14,625 miles before it hits the store shelves. The fashion industry is second only to agriculture in water usage, not to mention the 25% of the world's pesticides that it uses.

There are numerous advances being made towards sustainability in the clothing industry. Opportunities for improvement come from inputs, production, and delivery. To start, innovative companies are working to find more sustainable raw materials such as organic cotton, hemp and bamboo which are less reliant on pesticides and water than traditional materials. The demand for organic cotton grew 22% from 2004 to 2005, yet organic accounts for less than one percent of worldwide cotton production. Another approach to sustainability is associated with improvements in the value chain. Streamlining the path that the product takes from start-to-finish may be gentler on the environment, yet the current way is more cost effective. Companies must decide if the added expense would further its strategy or add value to the product in the eyes of the consumer.

Sustainable Processing of Textiles also includes Bio Processing of Textiles. Bio-processing can simply be defined as the application of living organisms and their components to industrial products and processes, which are mainly based on enzymes. Bio processing also offers the potential for new industrial processes that require less energy, less water and less effluent problems with effective results. Enzymatic Desizing, Enzymatic Scouring, Enzymatic Bleaching, Bio polishing and Enzyme based softeners are few examples of bio processing of textiles.

Further, sustainable technologies are being rapidly developed all along the value chain by first-movers and start-ups. Mature companies that are not investing in these progressive practices risk losing market share or even absolution. The companies that have made steps toward sustainable competitive advantage are seeing an impact on the triple bottom line. For instance, Patagonia began its Common Threads recycling program in 2005. From Reno, Nevada, the items are shipped to Japan for reprocessing. Patagonia reports the recycling process, along with all the travel, uses 76% less energy and produces 71% fewer CO2 emissions than manufacturing from raw materials. The company knows that it is doing the right thing for future generations while strengthening its image as a conscientious outdoor lifestyle company. These practices show ecological savings are clear while monetary gains are small but likely to grow as the practice becomes more commonplace and more recycling companies are formed, reducing the product's traveled for the process.

The Case for Sustainability

BTI we found the benefits of the triple bottom line can include reduced cost, improved image and loyal customers. If this isn't enough to convince companies, perhaps another major trend with global influence will cause them to reconsider. Experts believe that the Great Recession of 2008 will result in a permanent decrease in the world's consumer spending. Not unlike survivors of the Great Depression, Americans coming out of this downturn will be thriftier and less wasteful. This is good news for the resale and reuse industries, as well as companies that align their business models around sustainability and frugality. At BTI we understand the steps need to fine-tune every process and policy, aligning business goals with consumer values.

No longer can companies be content to monitor only the obvious social impacts of today. Without a careful process for identifying evolving social effects of tomorrow, firms may risk their very survival.