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The textile and fashion industry is a large-scale player when it comes to environmental impact. Ensuring a sustainable production with a minimisation of negative environmental consequences is part of your obligation as a responsible player in the industry.

Businesses must support a precautionary approach to environmental challenges

Environmental sustainability concerns an organisation’s impact on living and non-living natural systems, including the ecosystems of land, air and water. In some textile producing regions freshwater and drinking water have become a scarce resource, which often has to do with industrial consumption and waste. Work for more efficiency in the conservation of freshwater. Also consider environmental initiatives as an integrated part of your management planning and act to continuously improve environmental responsibility.

Undertake initiatives to promote greater environmental responsibility

The world is facing a complex set of challenges regarding environmental issues. Each day we dump millions of tonnes of hazardous waste; we use toxic chemicals, diffuse heavy metals and produce wastewater. The manufacturing industry is a large-scale consumer of clean water and as water scarcity becomes a serious problem in many parts of the world, the industry has to work on finding new ways to minimise water consumption. There may be corollary pressure, both regulatory and reputational, on products that require a significant quantity of water. Such products may be phased out by law, lose market share to less water-intensive products or cause reputational damage to the company. Furthermore increasing water prices and other natural commodity prices such as oil are pushing the industry to think the environment into their core business strategy. Also when it comes to pollution challenges like chemicals, air emissions and hazardous waste, prevention is better and cheaper than cure. Pollution is likely to impose irreversible and severe damage to local communities, the labour force and hence to the business of suppliers and subcontractors. NICE recommends working continuously towards cleaner, more environmentally friendly production and addressing, in particular, the usage of sustainable energy throughout the supply chain. In particular, the following environmental issues should be taken into account: waste, water, chemicals, energy usage, carbon dioxide and air emissions.


  • Work with integration, engagement and action when it comes to environmental management in general
  • Integrate environmental issues in your business plan by e.g. setting goals to minimise the amount of wastewater produced and recycle as much as possible
  • Engage people—the workforce, locals, NGOs and other stakeholders—by sharing your concern for the environment with them
  • Take collective action, collaborate and share knowledge about best practices and methods with business partners and colleagues
  • Develop a better mutual understanding of sustainable business practices by engaging in partnerships with suppliers. Partnerships can also create a societal and environmental impact that goes beyond the business scope

Taking the environmental impacts that occur in a typical garment lifecycle and stakeholder concerns into consideration, the following issues need to be addressed by the fashion and textile industry: waste, water, chemicals, energy usage, carbon dioxide and air emissions:


  • Reduce or eliminate waste of all types, including of water and energy, at the source or by employing practices such as modifying production, maintenance and facility processes, material substitution, conservation, recycling and re-using materials
  • Monitor, control and treat wastewater and solid waste generated from operations and industrial processes such as wet processing as well as sanitation facilities as required by national law prior to discharge or disposal
  • Conduct any discharge or disposal under the highest national standard when it comes to preserving the environment
  • Identify and manage chemicals and other materials that pose a hazard if released into the environment to ensure safe handling, movement, storage, recycling or reuse and correct disposal
  • Have established guidelines that explain how and where the waste is kept and delivered, and if any special precautions should be taken



  • Monitor and record the amount of water used for specific processes
  • Monitor and record the amount of recycled water
  • Monitor and record your water footprint throughout the value chain
  • Monitor and manage the risks related to water issues regulatory, reputational etc.
  • Summarise improvements regarding water issues in your factory in an annual written report
  • Make your water policy available to the public and communicate it to everyone involved in your business
  • Combine processes when possible
  • Use clean technology which allows for a reduced number of cleaning/rinsing steps



  • Close cooperation with stable and trustworthy suppliers is fundamental to ensuring the production of secure textiles. Testing and certification are important, but not enough
  • Ensure a common understanding between you and your suppliers of the necessary requirements regarding the use of chemicals. Consider upgrading your suppliers’ level of knowledge of the chemicals, their effect and environmental impact as an investment that pays off
  • Ensure that your factory possesses a list of all chemicals used in the processes at the factory that describes their use and environmental impact
  • The supplier of chemicals should provide all information about the contents, and a material safety data sheet (MSDS) form should be applied in all transactions
  • Inform all workers working with hazardous chemicals of the risks involved and train them to cover, handle, move, store, recycle or reuse and dispose of the chemicals in question
  • Work actively to replace all hazardous chemicals by introducing a restricted substance list prohibiting certain materials and chemicals
  • Ensure that all chemicals or substances classified as hazardous bear an information label that lists details about the specific chemical
  • Provide workers with written instructions on the properties of the chemicals
  • Substitute harsh and environmentally polluting chemicals with less impacting chemicals or enzymes


Encourage the development and diffusion of environmentally friendly technologies


Energy usage, carbon dioxide and air emissions

  • Measure the carbon footprint of the facilities you own and operate
  • Set reduction targets and request that suppliers do the same
  • Report the carbon footprint of the facilities you own and operate and begin requesting that suppliers do the same
  • Work actively to increase the portion of products made out of less carbon-intensive materials
  • Monitor emissions and the greenhouse gases emitted during production
  • Characterise, monitor, control and treat all air emissions of volatile organic chemicals, aerosols, corrosives, particulates, ozone depleting chemicals and combustion by-products as required by national law prior to discharge
  • Check the efficiency and age of your production equipment regularly
  • Use environmentally friendly energy sources
  • Move away from fuels with high COemissions towards fuels with low CO2 emissions


Use environmentally friendly auxiliaries


Focus on auxiliaries that:

  • Have low environmental impact when produced
  • Have efficient production, including increasing through put, shortening process time and hereby low volumes of auxiliaries with high impact
  • Are readily degradable in effluent treatment plants
  • Have low toxicity in the atmosphere and in aquatic environments

The above can be achieved by using, for example environmentally friendly chemicals and biotechnological solutions such as enzymes.


Implement clean technologies

  • Recycle water and heat
  • Implement water saving devices
  • Combine process steps when possible
  • Implement clean processes/technology to avoid cleaning/rinsing steps
  • Implement low temperature processes

The above can be achieved by implementing, for example the most recent developments in machinery with low energy and water consumption and by employing biotechnology that allows for low temperatures and combined processing.

According to ILO’s International Occupational Safety Health Information Centre, the properties of a chemical should be described on a material safety data sheet. The data sheet should provide the following information:

  • Identification
    • Name of the substance or preparation
    • Name, address and telephone number of the company/supplier/undertaking
  • Composition and information on ingredients
  • Hazards identification
  • First aid measures
  • Fire-fighting measures
  • Spillage, accidental release measures
  • Handling and storage
  • Exposure controls and personal protection
  • Physical and chemical properties
  • Stability and reactivity
  • Toxicological information
  • Ecological information
  • Disposal considerations
  • Transport information
  • National regulations and references
  • Other information

More topics

Human rights
Freedom of association
Forced labour
Child labour
Working hours
Labour contracts
Sick leave
Grievance system
Occupational health and safety
Corruption and bribery
Monitoring and evaluation