New Delhi: “Without clean air, how do we run or play?" When Mark Parker, chief executive officer of Nike Inc., a footwear and apparel manufacturing company, asked this rhetorical question in Nike’s annual Sustainable Business Report, ahead of World Environment Day on 5 June, he had good reason to do so.
Faced with government pressure to reduce pollutants and the need to adhere to corporate social responsibility guidelines, companies across sectors are now sharpening their efforts on using less plastic while simultaneously recycling old material and using newer technologies to alter the way they manufacture products. Sportswear companies are no exceptions.
About 75% of all Nike products, for instance, are now made of recycled material—including sneakers and premium jerseys. Nike also claims to have diverted more than 51 million pounds of waste materials globally (that can occupy 10 Olympic-size swimming pools) between May 2016 and 2017. It has also used 4 billion discarded plastic bottles for its products.
Nike is just a case in point. US-based Alternative Apparel Inc., too, recycles over 100,000 discarded plastic bottles annually, and relies heavily on use of organic cotton in place of conventional cotton. Similarly, Alcis Sports, an Indian performance wear brand, has been making T-shirts from waste plastic bottles since the past two years. Called Wonder Tee, each T-shirt uses about 8 plastic bottles. Alcis now aims to have 50% of its products manufactured from recycled polyester, made from waste plastic bottles.
Swedish clothing retail company Hennes and Mauritz AB’s H&M Foundation, on its part, has partnered with The Hong Kong Research Institute of Textiles and Apparel (HKRITA) to develop newer technologies for recycling by 2020. H&M collects old garments at stores in India as well, and estimates to have collected more than 55,000 tonnes of garments globally since 2013, which is more fabric than in 270 million T-shirts. German sportswear company Puma SE, too, hopes to completely eliminate the discharge of hazardous chemicals by 2020, according to its current Sustainability Handbook for environmental standards.
Consuming less water during the manufacturing process is another focus area. The reason: Dyeing the fabric is estimated to consume as much as 100-150 liters of water for every kilogram of textiles being processed for manufacture. Hence, Nike now uses a water-free colour dyeing technology called ColorDry, developed by Dutch company DyeCoo. American company Alternative Apparel Inc. also uses dyes that use up to 60% lesser water, along with biodegradable fabric softeners.
Farmlands provide some solutions too. British footwear and apparel company Reebok has the ‘Cotton + Corn’ footwear line-up and partnered with DuPont Tate & Lyle LLC to use the company’s Susterra propanediol—a material that does not use petroleum and is derived from field corn.
To be sure, waste management, especially plastic, poses a huge environmental problem. According to the World Economic Forum, 8 million tonnes of plastic end up in the ocean every year, and the number is expected to rise to 60 tonnes per minute by the year 2050, if the current rate of plastic usage is maintained.
China, according to the United Nations, is the largest producer of plastic in the world (28%) followed by the United States (18.5%) and Asian countries including India (16.7%). Steps taken by brands like Nike, Reebok and Puma may appear to be small step when it comes to tackling the big climate change problem but they seem to be moving in the right direction.