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  • Davide Bonesi

Circular Textiles in the Nordics: Challenges & Opportunities for Emerging Economies

How will the circular economy of textiles look in the Nordics in 2030? What needs to happen to get there? What is the role of the Nordics in the textile value chain? What role do the Nordics play in bringing the circular economy concept to life in this context?

These are some of the questions that were discussed in the session “Circular Textiles in the Nordics: Challenges & Opportunities for Emerging Economies,” which Circular Innovation Lab hosted together with the Lifestyle & Design Cluster on November 23rd, 2022, as part of the Nordic Circular Summit that took place from November 22nd to 24th, 2022, in Stockholm, Sweden. The session served as a pre-launch of a transition group at the Nordic Circular Hotspot titled ‘Circular Textiles in the Nordics: Challenges & Opportunities for Emerging Economies (India, Bangladesh, and Vietnam).’ The group is jointly initiated by Circular Innovation Lab and Lifestyle & Design Cluster and will invite Nordic Circular Hotspot partners from all Nordic countries with a specific interest in the field to participate.

The panel discussion on the topic saw the contributions of five speakers, all of who connected sustainability and the textile industry to their daily lives. The goal of the session was to explore the opportunities and challenges of implementing circular textile strategies in emerging economies and how these can be addressed in the Nordics.

The importance of this topic is well known in our societies, with the fashion industry being one of the most polluting industries in the world. According to the UN, clothing and footwear production account for 10% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. It is relevant to highlight how this number is higher than the pollution coming from the aircraft and shipping industries combined. In addition, global consumption in the sector in question has quadrupled since 2000.

During the event, several topics were stressed by the panellists: the challenges affecting a circular economy transition in the textile sector; the need for collaboration as an enabler of the change; the role of effective policy structures in developing the sustainable process; the impact of innovation; as well as the call for a change of mindset.

Diving into the discussion, all panellists agreed on the extreme importance of making the textile industry sustainable and circular by looking both at material reuse and recycling practices for waste. However, they also shared the challenges affecting this goal. When we look at such an industry, the role of single firms and single countries is extremely important, but the magnitude of the challenge is clearly huge if we look at the entire supply chain. As panellist Siddhart Lulla (Principal at Intellecap, India) highlighted, “to achieve the goals, we need to look at the entire supply chain.”

Given the existing dispersive framework, a call for collaboration and effective policies is essential. On this matter, Siddhart Lulla stressed the need for a proper framework to establish green jobs and incited such actions to ensure an ecosystem of “de-competitive collaboration” as well as policies. As for de-competitive collaboration, it is a combination of networks, knowledge, and access to new technologies. As for policies, they can and must help us in the transition to the net-zero goal. Alimenting the discussion about collaboration and policies, Marie Busck (Head of CSR & Sustainability at Danish Fashion & Textile) emphasized how “small and medium-sized companies need to get out of their comfort zones in terms of collaboration between each other and with manufacturers in producing countries.” Working together can serve as a multiplier for collective action. The speaker stressed how collaboration is a necessity because no one has the knowledge to achieve these goals alone. In terms of policies, she highlighted how an extensive regulatory framework can be less effective if we lack a formal process to practically engage manufacturers. Overall, there should be more cohesion in how regulation is transferred to manufacturers.

With the contribution of Gauri Sharma (Senior Manager at Shahi Exports, India), the concept of collaboration was linked to innovation. In fact, many companies working on circular, energetic innovations are start-ups, and they would benefit a lot from working with large manufacturers in the sector. The connection between innovators and large manufacturers can boost innovation because large companies can guide start-ups with their experience and needs. With respect to the challenges the sector is facing, Gauri Sharma denounced a misalignment between the ambition of sustainability goals and the short-term vision of brands. As a result, brands are continuously striving for long-term sustainable plans, while in practice, stores are not evolving in a durable path.

This vision was shared by Dr. Mohammad Rana (PhD. and Project Lead of CREATE, Aalborg University) as well. He disentangled the three main actors in the circular transition: buyers, suppliers, and workers. Therefore, the lack of long-term strategies by suppliers, combined with the lack of long-term commitment by buyers, can damage the incentives of the transition. In addition, his contribution touched on the topic of green energy. In fact, there are different opportunities for businesses operating in Europe and businesses in developing economies. For instance, it is easier for a Danish business to switch to green energy, given that 80-90% of Danish energy is green. Differently, Bangladesh has only 1% of its energy green, making it very difficult for businesses to become greener from this point of view.

While we wait for the green infrastructure to develop further, what can we do in the meantime? This is the question Isabella Holmgaard (CSR Manager at Message) posed. In order to answer, she stressed the need for more data and trust. These assets could improve transparency. However, as the speaker noted, transparency is something that starts with businesses. Moreover, what we can do in the meantime is encourage a change of mindset, both in buyers and suppliers. Concerning the sustainable transition, she stated that "we know that everyone has an idea in mind that has been inspired over time." Understanding where this inspiration is coming from can help us find the right points to stress.

To conclude, the valuable panel discussion provided a comprehensive and detailed understanding of circular textiles in the Nordics and in developing countries. By stressing the importance of the topic, the speakers presented the challenges that such an industry faces in becoming more sustainable. Following this, they stressed the role of collaboration, as no actor can achieve the goal alone. The role of policies and innovation went hand in hand with collaboration during the discussion. As for policies, the need for effective and engaging regulation is one of the most important factors in the transition. As for innovation, it should be connected to the large players in the industry. Finally, a shift in mindset will motivate all industry participants to work harder to achieve net zero goals.


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