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Polartec Stakes Future Goals on Sustainable Science

At Polartec’s global digital event a science-based focus on sustainability took center stage.

Greater durability, smarter chemistry, natural performance and total circularity is the aim of Polartec’s full system approach to achieving 2025 sustainability goals, according to Polartec president Steve Layton, who stated that PFC-free DWR, new thinking around reducing microfiber shedding beyond construction, adding more natural fibers in product, and adhering to a triple bottom line strategy for circularity are all items on the company’s sustainability agenda going forward.

Layton’s introduction was a springboard for a spirited, high-level, expert-to-expert discussion during Polartec’s “The Science of Sustainable Fabric” panel discussion held recently. The two-hour long online event covered considerable ground with regard to recycled plastics, biodegradability, testing and measurement of sustainability and achieving a circular economy. Evidence of industry interest, and the universal appeal of these topics, was clear: 1,185 people registered for the March 23rd event; more than 900 actually joined the live presentation. Global attendance consisted of brand CEOs, CSR managers, designers, product directors, industry sustainability leaders, trade show organizers and 100+ members of the media, according to Polartec’ marketing manager, international, Alessandro Perseo.

Panelists did a good job providing a better understanding of the problems we face and the complexity of the situation. Top takeaways include: Listen more, learn more, let science lead the way and focus on solutions not stories.

Eva Karlsson, CEO, Houdini, offered a formula for sustainable innovation: PxV +L = 1. The catchy equation translates to Production x Volume + Lifestyle becomes sustainable and circular. “We need to look at the impact of production and the amount produced. L stands for products that inspire an outdoor lifestyle, one that cares for the environment, and takes care of garments,” explained Karlsson.

Dr. Morton Barlaz, NC State University professor and head of the department of civil, construction, and environmental engineering, encouraged attendees to question whether textile biodegradation in a landfill is the solution. He stressed the importance of determining what is a true improvement versus what sounds good but doesn’t do anything. “What we are talking about is complex,” said Barlaz, who recommended going forward with sophisticated analysis of alternative solutions, in addition to finding ways to communicate science based descriptions of materials that are easily understood.

Jeff Strahan, Milliken's director of research, compliance, and sustainability, discussed LCAs  offering case studies that showcased  how not all textile fibers are created equally. “Fibers should match the application and we have to look at the complete picture,” said Strahan. “Textiles will play a key role in enabling a circular economy; Textiles are part of the problem and will be part of the solution.”

Advancing a holistic approach to sustainable solutions rather than focusing on one element of the problem, was another key talking point. “Circular economy is about keeping the original item going longer,” said moderator Charles Ross, a Royal College of Art lecturer and textile sustainability expert, who emphasized “longevity” as a critical factor to circularity.

There is a lot of evolving information and lessons to be learned about the science of sustainability. Our upcoming issue of Textile Insight will follow up with further review of information shared during the Polartec presentation.

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