With an experience of 24 years in the sustainability space, content and communication, Renjini Liza Varghese, CEO WriteCanvas is an expert in areas such as circular economy, water neutrality and carbon emissions. Speaking to Incubees at the Recommerce Sustainable Clothing and Textile Recycling Conference in Coimbatore, gave her insights on sustainability in the textile sector.
Incubees: There have been growing concerns about sustainable textiles of high energy consumption, huge waste generates, heavy transportation and excessive packing materials, your comments?
Renjini Varghese: The majority of the textiles segment is driven by volume. Of this, —approximately 67 percent falls under the unorganized sector. Like any other manufacturing segment, textile should also adopt a before-the-counter and after-the-counter approach to drive sustainability. That does not mean we should completely ignore sustainable clothing material, which forms a critical industry component. However, the before-the-counter segment is dominated by energy consumption, material sourcing, wastage, packaging, and SCM—all of which are heavily loaded.
As they say, energy saved is equal to power generated. Efficiency improvement is also imperative. This translates to effective use of technology for optimal energy consumption and increased usage of renewable energy. The strategy may require replacing some old machines with new high-efficiency ones, using sensors and increasing the use of natural light for reduced grid power consumption. These efforts should be clubbed with the intent to reduce dependency on fossil fuels. In an industry, waste is a normal phenomenon. The authorities have mandated specific Waste management measures. The industry in certain quarters has taken measures towards recycling, circular material and so on, which is a welcome move. Though baby steps, this will improve from hereon.
Packaging is another segment that needs more attention. Focused efforts are being taken to make packing green and sustainable. For instance, large fashion houses and retailers are adopting plastic alternates for packaging. A few are using GPS to streamline fleet management, thereby retaining fuel efficiency. It is the collective efforts of the industry that will bring about a change in this segment.
SCM has been a game changer, and technology is leading the way. In the recent past, many manufacturers have shifted focus to digitization, real-time tracking, e-bills, and e-vehicles to reduce carbon emissions, and also as a part of the global mandate to follow statutes/compliances.
Incubees: How is the progress being measured?
Renjini Varghese: Sustainability initiatives take a longer time to give measurable outcomes. Having said that, renewable energy adaption will have a visible impact in six months. Each segment in the textile industry has to follow set parameters to quantify sustainable progress. Enterprises are devising internal measuring tools as well as signing up with external experts to handhold them throughout the process till climate disclosures. Climate risk must be factored into every business decision to achieve the desired results. Along with the RoI and TCO, mitigation to climate action should be the driving force to take investment decisions.
Incubees: There is still room for improvement in the fashion industry when it comes to sustainable textiles; how do you think the gap can be met?
Renjini Varghese: This response needs to be quantified in two segments: (a) the manufacturer and (b) the consumer.
As mentioned above, the segment is still at a nascent stage in India. We still have to reach a point where the manufacturer has a worm’s eye view of the product till it reaches the last mile (the consumer) and beyond (the landfill). I admit that new-age leadership understands the impact of climate change and is extensively utilizing technology to mitigate climate change. This is an inclusive effort, and large manufacturers and retailers set best practices for the entire value chain.
On the other hand, the best way to address the issue as a consumer (at the individual level) is to adopt reuse as a purpose and stick to no wardrobe overhaul, or fast fashion as a practice. Overall, the sourcing of materials must be determined by factors such as the quantity/ quality of chemicals, child labour, green processing, wastewater management, green energy usage, and others. Creating more awareness among the stakeholders is the key to bridging the gap, focusing on material circularity and addressing the green challenges.
Incubees: What are the technology-based solutions that could contribute to the improvement of sustainable fashion?
Renjini Varghese: Technology is undoubtedly an enabler, and digitization has proved immensely beneficial in the fight against climate change. Tech-enabled controls for energy usage are one of the best examples. Real-time data enables users to optimize usage and reduce energy consumption. Since green initiatives are a collective effort, developing a platformization strategy is very vital. Advanced technologies like AI, IoT big data and ML are also great enablers.
Incubees: Do you think the Indian government should take steps to regulate the textile industry?
Renjini Varghese: Textile is an industry that is spread across many layers. Regulating it as a whole may not be as practical as it sounds. The best option is to take advantage of the 33% regulated segment and drive change through them. This industry is labour intensive, consumes numerous natural resources and involves major logistical components. Policy and regulation cannot bring significant changes in a shorter time.
Incubees: Having a rich experience of 24 years in the content, communication, and sustainability space what are some of the challenges you faced around sustainability?
Renjini Varghese: For a majority of the people, sustainability is a government/authority’s problem. What they fail to understand is that it is a societal/cultural issue and impacts each one of us. The world is already reeling under the impact of climate change, and we have witnessed the havoc created because of heatwaves, excess rainfall, forest fires, etc. While these calamities jolt the government into action, lack of involvement by the citizens pushes governmental initiatives to the back burner, and files gather dust.
We need focused and concentrated efforts to make people aware of the need to save the plant as we do not have a planet B as an option. The change has to start from ‘US‘ as individuals and involve the society at large for collaborative efforts. Collective action is the right step to fighting the Climate Catastrophe.
To read other interviews, visit: https://incubees.com/recommerce-building-an-entire-ecosystem-to-manage-recyclables-generated-by-industries/