Climate change is one of the major concerns of 21st century. Tremendous efforts are being made to tackle the climate change issue of the globe. Being one of the major polluting industries of the world, apparel and textile industry has caught the central attention. From fiber production to consumer use phase, the industry releases huge amount of carbon throughout the supply chain. Tackling peripheral issues such asraw materials production or manufacturing stage willsolve the problem partially. Analyzing the entire carbon footprint in sub stages and establishing a holistic sustainable textile supply chain and consumption practice can bring wholesome result. Added to this, concerted efforts need to be made to make a conscious manufacturer, conscious retailers and conscious consumer’s dimensions. In fact, conscious consumers are the key players behind all the business and policy strategies of the industry. Above all, an efficient manufacturing facility and sustainable materials input in the facility starts the chain reaction for the rest of the supply chain. In this article, we will briefly focus on global climate change issue and textile industry induced climate change potential with regard to cotton production and dyeing industry. Understanding how cotton production and dyeing process plays their role towards climate change will help us find remedial actions.
Global Climate Change
Throughout the last half of 20th century, climate change issue has become the pivotal issue of discussions globally. Irresponsible human activities are primarily responsible for the ongoing climate change. Imprudent consumption of water, chemical and energy by industrial activities is making the situation tougher to confront. Unless we become conscious and make combined effort to ward off the threat, the world will be nearly inhabitable in immediate future.
The world is becoming more and more energy hungry. Energy consumption results in carbon release to the environment. Carbon deposition in the environment is the main villain of climate change. Every human or natural activity that has some business with carbon release is a threat.
For this reason, it is imperative to check all major activities releasing vast amount of carbon in order to curb the pace of current climate change pattern, if not each and every actions. Burning fossil fuels such as coal, gas and oil is the single most impactful human activity of the world. Power generation releases 23 billion tons of CO2 emissions per year – in excess of 700 tons every second. Coal releases 70% more carbon dioxide than natural gas for every unit of energy produced harming environment severely1.
The industrial activities have raised atmospheric carbon dioxide levels from 280 parts per million to 400 parts per million in the last 150 years2 .For every gallon (or liter) of gasoline your car burns, 1300 times that volume of CO2 is released (a gallon of gas weighs about 6 pounds or 2.8 kilograms, but the released CO2 would weigh over 19 pounds or 8.75 kilograms)3 .
Charles Keeling began precise monthly measurements of the concentration of carbon dioxide in 1958. He was the first to do so systematically and so his data have come to be known as the “The Keeling Curve” (more info: http://scrippsco2.ucsd.edu/home/index.php). Take a look in the following curve-
It is very threatening to see the above curve about how the carbon Dioxide deposit has been increasing over last 50 years. Now, it is necessary to state how accumulation of carbon dioxide in atmosphere causes climate change. Gilbert N. Plass (2008) writes in his ‘Carbon Dioxide and Climate’ article-“The carbon dioxide and other gases in the atmosphere are virtually transparent to the visible radiation that delivers the sun’s energy to the earth. But the earth in turn reradiates much of the energy in the invisible infrared region of the spectrum. This radiation is most intense at wavelengthsvery close to the principal absorption band (13 to 17 microns) of the carbon dioxide spectrum. When the carbon dioxide concentration issufficiently high, even its weaker absorption bands become effective, and a greater amount of infrared radiation is absorbed. Because the carbon dioxide blanket prevents its escape into space, the trapped radiation warms up the atmosphere”.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued a global climate assessment in 2007 which compared the relative influence exerted by key heat-trapping gases. The IPCC calculated the “radiative forcing” (RF) of each climate driver-that explains the net increase (or decrease) in the amount of energy reaching Earth’s surface attributable to that climate driver. Positive RF values indicate average surface warming and negative values represent average surface cooling. CO2 has the highest positive RF (see figure) of all the human-influenced climate drivers compared by the IPCC.
The impact of this rise in atmospheric temperature results in more frequent and intense drought, storms, heat waves, rising sea levels, melting glaciers and warming oceans resulted from environmental exploitation can harm animals, destroy the places they live, and wreak havoc on people’s livelihoods and communities.
It is also a great shock that we will run short of our natural reserve of energy very soon. Gilbert also states “In less than 1,000 years, if consumption continues to increase at the current rate, we will have exhausted the currently known reserves of coal and oil. By that time we will have multiplied the carbon dioxide tonnage of the air 18 times”. The similar study has also been found in Shinzo Saito’s (2010) study.
So it is easily understandable that depletion of natural energy resources has a negative relation with carbon deposition in atmosphere and resultant climate change. Climate change influences the global weather pattern. Changes and unpredictable fluctuation in the weather hampers agriculture industry. Agricultural industry pushes the interrelated chain of other industries which will wreak havoc on human lives and livelihoods. Simply put, climate change is a threat which can erase earth from the universe shortly if not dealt seriously.
Climate Change Vulnerability Index (CCVI), released by global risks advisory firm Maplecroft, evaluates 42 social, economic and environmental factors to assess national vulnerabilities across three core areas. These include: firstly, exposure to climate-related natural disasters and sea-level rise; secondly, human sensitivity, in terms of population patterns, development, natural resources, agricultural dependency and conflicts; thirdly, the index assesses future vulnerability by considering the adaptive capacity of a country’s government and infrastructure to combat climate change. CCVIenables organizations to identify areas of risk within their operations, supply chains and investments.
A closer look in its report reveals sensitive consequences of climate change for some of the countries, especially Bangladesh.
Climate change potential of textiles
There are many alarming evidences of unethical textile production disregarding environmental well-being. Textile supply chain is very complex and intertwined. Every process from fiber production to final finished apparel has its own carbon history. In order to make the whole system sustainable, it is necessary to have clear carbon footprint
data of every process, action and material. Taking advantage of globalization, companies are in the wild race of keeping the price of the apparel products lower. Continuous exploring of the lower wage country has been prime need for the companies to be competitive in the race. And that racing to the bottom has made the apparel and textile industry a highly polluted and labor exploiting one. Apparel and textile production starts with producing fibers. Cotton is the top choice of consumers. But cotton cultivation causes serious harm to the environment. In this section we will understand some dark side of cotton production and dyeing in the subsequent section.
Facts of cotton production
- 1 kg of cotton (equivalent to a pair of jeans and a t-shirt) production can take more than 20,000 liters of water.
- 73% of global cotton harvest comes from irrigated land.
- 2.4% of the world’s crop land is planted with cotton and yet it accounts for 24% and 11% of the global sales of insecticide and pesticides respectively
- Cotton production provides income for more than 250 million people worldwide and employs almost 7% of all labor in developing countries.
- It is estimated that 60% of irrigation water in Central and Southern Asia is lost before reaching cotton fields because of poor infrastructure (PAN UK, 2006)
- 1.5% of world’s annual energy is consumed by industrial fertilizer production. Being a key consumer of fertilizer, cotton plays huge role in global climate change.
- The Aral Sea which was world’s fourth largest inland water lake has been reduced to 15% of its original size as a result of irrigation to cotton industry.
Another major polluting subsector of textile supply chain is dyeing operations. All synthetic dyes and chemicals are hazardous to environment. Uncontrolled operation overlooking environment provision can cause serious harms to the environment and the society in the play. The wastewater from dyeing industry is considered to be the most polluting of all the industries given that its volume and composition. Up to 200,000 tons of dyes are wasted in the form of effluent from dyeing and finishing operations due to inefficient process.Following is a list of possible chemicals used in various process in a textile industry-
A typical dyeing and finishing industry mainly involved with pretreatment (scouring, bleaching etc.) and after-treatment. In every process, it requires huge amount of water and chemical. Inefficient handling and unstandardized process often causes increased discharge of chemical in the form of wastewater. Following table gives an idea of volume and nature of wastewater of various process of a dyeing industry-
This has a very negative consequences on the human and marine lives. It is readily understandable that effluent contains toxic chemicals which will hamper marine lives. Regrettably, humankind will not be in better condition though. Water crisis is going to be one of the worst global menace.According to Greenpeace’s Dirty Laundry report, July 2011- “Clean water is not only a basic human right; it is the world’s most threatened essential resource. Securing clean water for current and future generations is essential for the health of ecosystems and human societies alike.” There is a saying from unrecognized source that ‘if the world watches any other world war, it will be centered on fresh water crises. From this saying it is easily understandable how the world is gradually nearing to severe fresh water crisis in the coming days. Industrial malpractice is contaminating the water harshly causing eutrophication, acidification, and declination of marine diversity and so on.
According to United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) “The total volume of water on Earth is about 1.4 billion km3. The volume of freshwater resources is around 35 million km3. The total usable freshwater supply for ecosystems and humans is about 200,000 km3 of water-less than 1 percent of all freshwater resources.”
All the malpractices in industry water usage culminate into fresh water crisis, environmental pollution and climate change, changing the course of the habitable world. The world is becoming increasingly unpredictable for the generations to come.
Climate change issue is the most dangerous threat we are facing now. If we do not agree on the problem unanimously or bypass the problem or cannot take appropriate measures, we are going into wrong direction. Every person should be conscious about his/her actions, choices and decisions in order to make an impact. A parson may throw out his t-shirt after using it only once without knowing the carbon footprint it has made throughout its life. For this, it is very urgent to be mindful of our actions we make. We all has our own share of responsibility to make the world better as Oscar Winning actor Leonardo DiCaprio rightly says- “Climate change is real, and it’s happening right now. It is the most urgent threat facing our entire species and we need to work collectively together and stop procrastinating. Let us not take this word for granted”.
- Source: http://www.worldwildlife.org/
- Source: http://climate.nasa.gov/
- Source: http://ncse.com/
- Keilholz, P., Disse, M., & Halik, Ü. (2015). Effects of Land Use and Climate Change on Groundwater and Ecosystems at the Middle Reaches of the Tarim River Using the MIKE SHE Integrated Hydrological Model. Water, 7(6), 3040-3056. MDPI AG. Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org/10.3390/w7063040
- Chequer, F. M. D., de Oliveira, D. P., Ferraz, E. R. A., de Oliveira, G. A. R., Cardoso, J. C., &Zanoni, M. V. B. (2013). Textile dyes: dyeing process and environmental impact (pp. 151-176). INTECH Open Access Publisher.
- Kant, R. (2012) Textile dyeing industry an environmental hazard. Natural Science, 4, 22-26. doi:10.4236/ns.2012.41004