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Ecology And Economy In Textile Finishing

Water and energy usage reductions by the textile dyeing and finishing sector can help reduce global carbon dioxide emissions.

Jürg Rupp, Executive Editor

E nergy consumption and water usage in the textile industry in general, and particularly in dyeing and finishing processes, are very high and costly. The textile industry is expected to play an ever-more-progressive role in developing environmentally friendly technologies and processes. There is a lot of potential for savings. By saving energy and water, the textile industry can not only save a lot of money, but also help to slow down climate change.

In today's competitive market environment, it's hard to increase the price of any product, in spite of higher raw material prices and soaring energy and water costs. Therefore, it's more important than ever to apply modern technology with the greatest potential for energy and water savings, resulting in reduced production costs.

Climate Change And The Textile Industry

fongAt ITMA Asia + CITME 2008, Bill Fong, executive director, European operations, of Hong Kong-based dyeing and finishing machinery manufacturer Fong's Industries Co. Ltd., gave an impressive presentation about the future with regard to climate change and the textile industry.

Fong began by mentioning that "for more than two millennia, the Ganges, which flows more than 2,400 kilometers from the Himalayas, across the plains of India, into Bangladesh and then the Bay of Bengal, has been revered as a symbol of spiritual purity. In Varanasi, say inhabitants, the river level has dropped by an easily observable 2 meters. Climate change is also taking its disastrous toll. The Himalayan Gangotri glacier, the source of most of the Ganges' water during India's long, hot summer, is shrinking by 40 meters a year, say scientists. By 2030, it could disappear altogether - making the Ganges seasonal, dependent upon erratic monsoon rains."

Cooperation Is Better Than Confrontation

Today, some Western countries are blaming the East for using too much energy. The Eastern world just started its industrial development a short time ago. For example, one-third or even more of the world population lives in China and India. Who would deny that these people also have the right to a better life? At the moment, China is producing more carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions than the United States. However, China's 11th Five-Year Plan sets targets of reducing energy consumption per unit of gross domestic product by 20 percent, and cutting total emissions of major pollutants by 10 percent by the year 2010.

The total global production of man-made fibers in 2006 rose to 41.27 million metric tons, of which China and India accounted for 51.8 percent and 6.2 percent, respectively, and man-made fiber consumption is steadily increasing (See Table 1).

The textile industry uses a lot of energy. Table 2 shows the energy consumption in kilowatt hours (kWh) to produce a 100-percent cotton shirt. It takes 4 square meters of land to grow the cotton, and there are 300 grams of fabric in the shirt. The following benchmarks show the difference in energy consumption of the dry process steps of knitting and weaving versus the wet finishing:
•    knitting: 1.2 kWh/kilogram (kg);
•    weaving: 6.2 kWh/kg; and
•    finishing: 17.9 kWh/kg.


Water Usage And Potential Savings

A comparison of water consumption and potential savings by the global textile industry is very striking (See Table 3). The estimated average water use is based on liters/kg of textiles. The data presented by Fong about global water consumption are based on a global annual textile production of 60 billion kg. Every percentage of water savings is an enormous amount of water. And, according to experts all over the world, water is one of the big crisis issues for the future.

To give a better image and understanding of the numbers, Fong converted the cubic-meter (m3) water consumption into the number of Olympic-size swimming pools that would be filled. The volume of water for one Olympic-size swimming pool is 2,500 m3. This comparison is also quite impressive (See Table 3).

Energy Consumption
And Potential Cost Savings

Based on the given annual global textile production of 60 billion kg, the estimated energy consumption is hard to imagine: 1,074 billion kWh or 132 million metric tons of coal. Cost savings of 30 to 50 percent are easy to calculate. At just 30 percent, the savings are gigantic. If 1 metric ton of coal is calculated to cost US$130, the annual energy cost is US$17.2 billion. Potential cost savings are as follows:
•    50 percent: US$8.6 billion;
•    40 percent: US$6.9 billion; and
•    30 percent: US$5.1 billion.

Beyond fiber production, the dyeing and finishing sector is the largest energy and water consumer in the whole textile chain and has the highest potential for energy and water savings and efficiency improvements.

Changing Consumer Attitudes

The industrial manufacturing sector accounted for 26 percent of global energy use and produced 18.5 percent of CO2 emissions in 2004, according to a report from the United Nations Industrial Development Organization. Today, the consmer is much more environmentally conscious than ever. Tomorrow, environmentally friendly products will be an important factor for success on the market.

Sustainability is no longer just a slogan for a clever marketing campaign, but a prerequisite for a long-term business and even survival. Some big European retailers are already asking for a certificate such as that offered by England-based Carbon Footprint Ltd. to show how products were produced. And the European consumer is ready to pay more money for "green" products. The US brand Patagonia® has been very successful for years offering outdoor apparel products containing polyester made from recycled polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles instead of virgin polyester.

In Great Britain, as the L.E.K. Carbon Footprint Report 2007 states: "[T]he scientific debate about climate change appears to have subsided, with a broad acceptance that carbon emissions need to be controlled. Despite this, the appropriate business response to the issue remains uncertain. Companies have publicly pursued a variety of responses. Marks & Spencer launched its Plan A and companies such as Boots, through the Carbon Trust, have introduced carbon labels on a number of their products. While the 'answer' may not be clear, what is certain is that carbon management strategies are converging with core company strategies to form an integral element of a business's approach." According to data compiled by London-based L.E.K. Consulting LLC, the trends are obvious: consumers are ready to buy more green products. It's remarkable to see that 40 percent of consumers think manufacturers have a responsibility to make environmentally friendly products (See Tables 4 and 5).

The big British department store Tesco will carry a refreshed label design featuring a carbon footprint™ logo, the carbon footprint figure, an endorsement from the London-based Carbon Trust and a written commitment to reduce carbon emissions. This refreshed design is based on extensive research with pilot partners and consumers. It provides more information for consumers to help them understand the carbon impact of a product and use this understanding to make purchasing decisions and reduce emissions. Sir Terry Leahy, Tesco's CEO, commented: "We want to give our customers the power to make informed green choices for their weekly shop, and enlist their help in working towards a revolution in green consumption. We encourage all of our suppliers and competitors to support the Carbon Trust in this collaboration."

Philip Charles Gamett, director of London-based Continental Clothing Company Ltd., said his company "will use the Carbon Trust's first carbon reduction label for textile products to pass forward the competitive advantage we have gained to corporate business leaders looking to act on climate change. We will ensure that every industry leader in Europe and the US will have been presented with the opportunity to benefit from so-called 'EarthPositive' apparel, using it to communicate to shareholders, employees and customers. Furthermore, we will show sustainability to be profitable and to have competitive advantage, and so encourage copycat behavior and thus movement towards a brand new industry in low-carbon clothing and textiles."


Is The Industry Ready For The Change?

Twenty years ago, the question was: "Can man save this fragile earth?" Today, the question should be the other way around: "How can the earth be saved from mankind?" Is the textile industry ready for this change? By replacing the existing capacity, significant benefits can be realized in terms of water that would fill more than 1 million Olympic-size swimming pools per year. If the annual worldwide coal consumption could drop by only 1 to 1.5 percent, the cost savings and the profit in the dyeing and finishing sector could increase by more than US$6 billion per year. At the same time, this would slow down climate change and reduce CO2 emissions resulting from the worldwide industrial manufacturing sector by more than 2 percent annually.

Beyond fiber production, the dyeing and finishing sector is the largest energy and water consumer in the whole textile chain and has the highest potential for energy and water savings and efficiency improvements. "Action is needed, but the industry cannot do it alone," Fong said. "National and multinational governments should support the industry with incentive plans to change old technology with modern equipment. Cutting-edge technology is available."

November/December 2008