Good for the environment, good for business: How apparel companies can use smart business processes to reduce their environmental impact

April 25, 2022
Kaily Hirsch

The global apparel market is massive. Clothing is a necessity, and consumer demand for quantity and variety in their apparel choices is greater than ever before. Unfortunately, the apparel industry is also one of the most environmentally damaging industries in the world. The negative environmental impacts of apparel can largely be attributed to textiles and the way they are made, obtained, and wasted. 

But what are textiles? They are the critical materials needed to make everything we wear. They are basic materials like polyester, cotton, rayon, and nylon. And they can be created in endless patterns, colors, and textures. Textile creation uses a lot of resources and can negatively impact the environment. Textiles are also wasted in massive quantities both before and after being turned into garments. This doesn’t have to be the reality of using textiles. With the proper planning and tools, apparel companies can use textiles without harming the environment. 

Why is textile manufacturing waste so harmful?

The apparel industry creates tons of waste - literally. It's nearly impossible to recycle textiles in a traditional sense; once a fabric is made, it is costly, if possible at all, to break it down into new material. As a result, the equivalent of a garbage truck full of textiles ends up in landfill sites every second. This comes out to around 92 million tonnes of textile waste each year. 

If textiles are not dumped, they are incinerated, leading to the emission of some pretty harmful chemicals, particularly from synthetic materials. This is a massive unnecessary waste, especially when we consider how difficult it is to make textiles in the first place. Apparel manufacturing is estimated to be responsible for between 8-10% of all greenhouse gas emissions. In addition, textile creation causes a massive strain on the earth's most precious resource - water. It takes 100-150 liters of water to make just one kilogram of fiber

And it's not just the use of water that is an issue. Clothing manufacturers have poisoned water supplies by incorrectly dumping waste. Textile creation is a complicated and environmentally taxing task. And the implications of textile waste are huge, but apparel companies can lessen the effects by making the right moves.

What can apparel companies do to reduce their environmental impacts?

Many consumers are now demanding apparel companies provide them with more sustainable clothing buying options. Sustainable fashion has grown from a niche subset of the apparel business into one of the most searched and discussed fashion categories. It is in the best interest of businesses, consumers, and the planet for apparel companies to use sustainable practices. 

There are dozens of ways any fashion brand can do this. Many of the solutions require apparel companies to be smarter about how they obtain and use textiles. Selecting textiles with lower environmental impacts, such as using organic cotton instead of polyester, can minimize a brand's carbon footprint. Sourcing textiles from producers with high environmental ratings means there is less of a chance the textile damaged the environment during creation, or that excess fabric was disposed of improperly. Companies can also source from textile manufacturers located close to them, thus reducing their carbon emissions during transport. 

Another great way to stop excess textile waste is through proper planning and reporting. By tracking previous sales and material requirements, clothing manufacturers will better understand how much and what they need to make. In order to make these changes, apparel and textile manufacturers will need some help on an organizational level. 

How an ERP system can help

It can be challenging for apparel businesses to know where to start when attempting to reduce their textile waste. Business planning tools, like ERP systems, are an ideal jumping-off point. Manufacturing features can help apparel businesses plan precisely how much textile they will need to make clothing. This will result in less textile waste and scrap fabric during manufacturing. 

Reporting helps apparel companies to understand consumer buying patterns better. This will stop them from creating clothing that does not sell and predict what consumers want in the future, so that they will not have poor-selling items. That means these items, and the textile used to make them, won’t be left unused or need to be disposed of. Finally, ERP systems help businesses run smoothly from end to end. And, when a company is running smoothly, business owners can spend more time focusing on finding other ways to be more sustainable. For example, using scrap textile to make new pieces or researching sustainable packing and shipping methods. 

There is no telling of the irreversible environmental damage textile manufacturing, and waste has caused. For decades, textile manufacturers and apparel companies accepted textile waste as an inevitability. But now, consumers are demanding more sustainable clothing options. That means if apparel companies continue to use wasteful practices, they risk losing customers. Thankfully, using tools like ERP systems makes good business sense - they can improve financial and environmental efficiency while helping businesses reduce their carbon footprint.

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