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Patagonia invests in sustainable textile processing system

Outdoor apparel maker Patagonia (Ventura, CA) has invested in CO2Nexus, Denver-based developer of a sustainable textile processing system called Tersus. The process can coat, clean, or disinfect textiles using liquid carbon dioxide; the process uses no water, generates little waste, and consumes less energy than previous methods. It processes textiles in a 20 to 30 minute cycle that requires no separate dryer, which is part of its energy-saving equation. Over repeated washes the method's benefits include down loft enhancement, water repellency, and color/size/fit consistency.

Traditional textile processing methods are extremely water- and energy-intensive. Patagonia points to industry data that show traditional methods consume up to 100 gallons of water per pound of textiles processed. Patagonia puts the volumes of water used by traditional methods at hundreds of billions of gallons in the United States alone, and trillions of gallons worldwide. With most textile processing now concentrated in regions of the world where water quality is already low, traditional textile processing can put even greater strain on drinking water supplies.

CO2Nexus President and CEO Richard Kinsman says the partnership with Patagonia opens opportunities the companies can pursue jointly, up and down the textile value chain. The company believes the process may revolutionize the manufacture of certain textiles and fabrics by making CO2-based sustainable production a viable alternative. While potential CO2-based solutions for fabric cleaning seem to be commanding the most early attention, the company does have initiatives underway in some textile processing industries to substitute CO2 for conventional water- and chemical-based methods.

Patagonia's investment was made via its internal fund, $20 Million & Change, created in 2013 to make strategic investments in startups offering sustainability solutions.

Patagonia also helped drive the formation of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC), which began with a 2010 inaugural meeting of apparel industry leaders, nongovernmental organizations, academia, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The group seeks to bring together the entire apparel supply chain to promote an industry index of social and environmental performance-the Higg Index. The organization now has 49 members representing nearly one-third of all clothing and footwear sold worldwide.

Version 2.0 of the Higg Index was published in December 2013. Its Materials Sustainability Index (MSI) component is a cradle-to-gate index using life cycle assessment (LCA) data. (Cradle-to-gate is the partial lifecycle that begins with product resources and ends at the factory gate, before the product ships to the customer.) It's a tool originally developed by footwear maker Nike and adapted in 2012 by the SAC.

The online MSI tool (www.apparelcoalition.org) provides access to Base Material Scores, in which the environmental impact of each material is provided as a single number from 1 to 50. The higher, the better. Polypropylene, for example, has a score of 36.0. Only three natural materials—down, rubber, and wood—score higher. (The lowest-scoring material is spandex fabric, scoring 13.9.)

Four subcategories are also scored for each material:

Chemistry, in which polypropylene scores 6.0 out of a possible 9. SAC says the Chemistry component "combines human health hazard evaluations for carcinogenicity, acute toxicity, chronic toxicity, and combined reproductive toxicity and endocrine disruption with assumptions about potential exposures during the life cycle."

Energy/GHG (Energy and Greenhouse Gas) Intensity, in which polypropylene scores 9.3 of a possible 11, evaluates consumption of "primary process energy plus transportation where data is available."

Water/Land Intensity, in which polypropylene scores 8.2 out of 13, "includes primary process water, such as irrigation for agricultural crops, but does not include water used in transportation. Land Use Intensity is the amount of bio-based raw material produced per hectare of land."

Waste, in which polypropylene scores 12.5 out of 17, is further broken down into Hazardous Waste, Municipal Solid Waste, Industrial Waste, Recyclable/Compostable Waste, and Mineral Waste.

The MSI web tool is also designed to facilitate review and comparison of material data and scores, with the goal of developing the tool into a "Federated Wiki" that will provide a unified view of data and content, promoting data transparency and collaboration—and systematic improvement—across the apparel and footwear industry.

— Tim Somheil, Contributing Editor

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