A review of a leading environmental impact tool for apparel finds that unless improvements are made, weaknesses in the underlying science could lead to misleading results, with potentially far-reaching consequences for the environment.
What do textile lifecycle assessment tools do?
Textile lifecycle assessment (LCA) tools aim to understand, quantify and communicate the environmental credentials of textiles with the intent of minimising environmental impact.
The Sustainable Apparel Coalition’s Material Sustainability Index (MSI) is increasingly being adopted by industry but this LCA method currently fails to account for the complexity of the textile industry.
"Several significant environmental impacts and processes are excluded from the MSI and PM, including recyclability, biodegradability, renewability of resource used, microfibres, abiotic resource depletion (minerals) and abiotic bioaccumulation," said Dr Steve Wiedemann of Integrity AG & Environment. If not addressed, these inconsistencies and risks to the scientific robustness of the MSI could lead to less sustainable fibre choices, which may compromise the SAC’s goal of promoting a sustainable apparel industry."
"If not addressed, these inconsistencies and risks to the scientific robustness of the MSI could lead to less sustainable fibre choices, which may compromise the SAC’s goal of promoting a sustainable apparel industry."
Why we can’t afford to get this wrong
Research conducted by environmental specialists Dr Steve Wiedemann and Dr Kalinda Watson of Integrity AG & Environment involved a comprehensive analysis of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition’s Material Sustainability Index (MSI) which reveals a number of shortcomings in the tool.
Unless these key issues are addressed, the guidance provided could lead to unsustainable choices, compromising the very thing environmental rating tools like the MSI set out to do.
“We need robust, accurate and reliable methods to generate meaningful ratings that can be trusted by all parts of the supply chain, including consumers.”
This is what the research found
- The MSI does not include a full lifecycle of products. Without including key environmental impact stages such as the use phase and garment end-of-life in the MSI, comparisons between fibre types are not meaningful.
- The MSI neglects measurement of important impacts such as microplastic pollution. The detrimental impacts of microplastic pollution are being uncovered at an alarming rate and this surely must be considered in the MSI which can be done through an accounting system.
- The quality of the underlying data is poor and in many instances not scientifically peer-reviewed or representative of the industry as a whole.
- The MSI lacks transparency in its use of proxy data and methodology. Weighting scores are given to environmental impacts such as energy, water and greenhouse gas that have not been tested by the scientific peer-reviewed process.
- The MSI does not yet consider all aspects of the environmental impact of the products tested such as renewability, recycling, biodegradability, land management, carbon cycling and biodiversity.
If the MSI is to be a comprehensive environmental measurement tool these aspects must be included.
You can read Integrity AG & Environment’s full report here.
The rising tide of microplastics
As much as 35 per cent of microplastics in the marine environment are fibres from synthetic clothing, an amount that continues to increase. But by contrast, natural fibres such as wool readily biodegrade, offering a less impactful solution.
The wool industry supports a robust and scientifically defendable approach to environmental assessments in the textile industry.
The Woolmark Company has been, and continues to be, an active contributor to the environmental assessment processes undertaken by companies such as the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, and to the funding of much-needed research.