Outdoor industry, sports and fashion professionals are asking themselves a lot of questions. Questions like: how risky are chemicals used in durable water repellency for outdoor products? Does Greenpeace have a message and a case for the outdoor industry? Which criteria do you need to follow in order to develop a truly open sustainability standard or sustainability rating approach? Why can an open data approach be dangerous? Does every organization need to develop its own sustainability standard and rating approach? If all organizations do that, which one’s example should you follow? ISPO 2016 has some answers, or at least some data, to inform these questions. Here we offer sustainability reflections from ISPO 2016.
Last week more than 80,000 industry professionals from some 120 countries came to ISPO 2016. Hosted in Munich, the event is the world’s largest sports business exhibition, held from January 24 to 27. ISPO is always a great opportunity for managers and sustainability professionals from the outdoor, sporting goods and fashion sectors to come together and discuss different sustainability topics. In this article we will discuss some of the topics covered in the different sustainability sessions organized by Pamela Ravasio at the European Outdoor Group, including:
- Durable Water Repellency (DWR) and Perfluorinated Compounds (PFC)
- Greenpeace’s latest report about DWR, which targets outdoor brands
- How to develop a truly open standard
- Open Data
- The divergence between different approaches to standards and ratings in the apparel sector
- How Leadership & Sustainability can help navigate the veritable jungle of standards out there
Durable Water Repellency, DWR
Stefan Posner from Swerea provides important insights
Durable water repellency has become a controversial topic ever since the use of so-called “long-chain Perfluorinated Compounds” was criticized due to the toxicity with which such PFCs afflict on both humans and the environment. In the session about DWR organized by European Outdoor Group Stefan Posner of Swerea, an excellent presentation about current research related to chemicals used for DWR was exposited. Posner explained differences between water repellency and soil repellency, and why soil repellency may only be needed in extreme circumstances. One such circumstance would be workwear. However, every so-often outdoor products are treated with the purpose of attaining good soil repellency in addition to water repellency. But Posner maintains this is unnecessary, as durable water repellency is easier to achieve through alternatives to long chain PFCs, or even with chemistries that do not contain any perfluorinated chemicals at all. Posner went on to describe different PFC and non-PFC chemistries, about what research has been done and shown results, and the research that has been done that demonstrates knowledge gaps. The takeaway was that there is still a lot of research required, both at the university level and through research organizations – not to mention within the brands themselves.
Greenpeace Publishes a New Report Related to DWR / PFC
The DWR presentation was held in the wake of Greenpeace publishing their report about DWR/PFC, “Leaving Traces – the hidden hazardous chemicals in outdoor gear.” Greenpeace says that out of 40 tested products, only 4 were free of the perfluorinated chemicals or polyfluorinated compounds investigated—at least, according to the detection limits applied. With the exception of the Norwegian limit, Greenpeace does not relate the concentrations detected to the actual legal limit in a finished product. Their meter is the limit at which any perfluorinated chemicals or polyfluorinated compounds are detected, which is lower than the legal limit.
Further Reading on DWR and PFCs
You can read more about Durable Water Repellency (DWR) and Perfluorinated Chemicals (PFCs) here:
- “Durable Water and Soil repellent chemistry in the textile industry – a research report” is a study made by Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals (ZDHC), European Outdoor Group (EOG) and Outdoor Industry Association (OIA).
- “Outdoor jackets with durable water repellent finish: a consumer & brand perspective on product features, usability & product aftercare” is another study ZDHC, EOG and OIA put together with De Montfort University (School of Fashion & Textiles) and the German Sporting Goods Association. The study examines consumer perspectives on durable water repellency and perfluorinated chemicals.
- “Ask the Innovators: How Green is your raincoat?” This is a discussion the American Chemical Society organized online about DWR and PFC on January 27, 2016. The contributors to the discussion were Stefan Posner, Swerea, Robert Buck, Chemours, Matt Dwyer, Patagonia, and Philippa Hill, University of Leeds.
Being Open About Standards and Data – Sustainability Reflections
What does “open” mean in relation to standards?
Dr. Marcus M. Dapp, Executive Director of the Institute of Public Information Management (IPIMA) at Fortiss, made a presentation assessing the openness of a sustainability standard with the help of 10 criteria:
- Open meeting
- Due Process
- One World 
- Open IP Rights 
- Open Change
- Open Documents
- Open Interface
- Open Access
- On-going support
These criteria are indeed quite challenging, and it would be interesting to know how organizations that develop sustainability standards would rate themselves according to them. Regardless, the list is great to use whenever you wish to ensure the highest level of participation and transparency. Your degree of openness can then be paired with your level of quality and voilà, now you can assess different standards authoritatively. A great example can be seen in a matrix form. Given the high activity level that comes with developing standards worldwide, the above-described approach is quite helpful. If you are a standard developer, ask yourself whether or not you should apply these criteria.
The next topic that Dr. Marcus M. Dapp covered triggered a good discussion with the audience. The topic was “open data,” i.e. data generated and posted on public websites. Such data can be posted by governments, companies, organizations or any other data-collecting entity. For example, the US government open data website, and its complimentary UK counterpart give users access to a substantial volume of information. Just take a look at the US ecosystems site.
Beyond governments, there are certainly a variety of other operations that could, and perhaps should, be covered with open data: corporations, supply chains, production data, product data, et cetera. Openoil.net hosts most of the world’s publicly-available concession data, with some 20,000 concessions, 2,000 companies and 69 countries. Sustainability rating and sustainability standards would both be easier to work with if there was open data to use in the construction of policy. Dr. Marcus M. Dapp went on to describe 10 open data principles:
- Ease of physical and electronic access
- Machine readability
- Use of commonly owned standards
- Open Licensing
- No usage costs
These items definitely facilitated a discussion toward the end of his presentation, several extremely important questions being:
- What about intellectual property rights?
- What if the data is used for criminal acts?
There was certainly interest in open data, but also resistance among some participants. It is a controversial portion of ISPO 2016, no doubt, but no less crucial because of it.
Roundtable: Transparent Sustainability Performance and Sustainability Rating Tools
Participants and topics
The next EOG session covered a roundtable discussion hosted by Dr. Marcus M. Dapp regarding sustainability performance. After all, sustainability rating is definitely related to sustainable performance! You’ve got to follow things like the Higg Index, an apparel and footwear standard that businesses use that helps them self-assess social and environmental sustainability in a given supply chain. Two groups were invited to the roundtable discussion about transparent sustainability performance tools like the Higg Index: one with representatives from organizations developing and applying indices—i.e. performance tools—and one with representatives from sustainability analysts.
The Indices Group:
The Analysts Group:
The roundtable started with five minutes of introductory remarks from each participant. Subsequently, several questions were given to the two groups from the moderator, and then questions from the audience were solicited. Issues raised were things like how such organizations collaborate, the transparency of their methods, how long it would take to standardize output in similitude to that found in the corporate financial accounting sector, etc.
Our sustainability reflections and takeaways from this roundtable discussion were:
- There are many diverging standards in many sectors, and this is true for textiles as well. Despite the wish to collaborate, these organizations sometimes undermine one another’s work. We raise a call for more collaboration and preparedness in joining forces. This is for the benefit of customers, and to facilitate the streamlining of focus necessary for actual impact across the vastness of value chains.
- There’s an ardent wish that, especially regarding sustainability rating agencies, there would be a greater drive toward affecting a harmonization process that is more stringent. As evidence, none of the participants mentioned PRI, (Principles for Responsible Investment), or the Global Initiative for Sustainability Ratings (GISR). This is especially telling when you consider that GISR says of themselves: “GISR’s mission is to design and steward a global sustainability (i.e., Environmental, Social, and Governance – ESG) ratings standard to expand and accelerate the contribution of business and other organizations worldwide to sustainable development. GISR will not rate companies. Instead, it will accredit other sustainability ratings, rankings or indices to apply its standard for measuring excellence in sustainability performance.” Responsible investments are important to correctly apply. Do we have a harmonized approach to invest where it makes most sense from a sustainability perspective? Or is the whole thing dissonant?
- The indices and rating approaches are heading toward a more data-driven putsch. This will probably benefit quality, if the data collected is actually qualitative; however, there’s definitely work to do throughout the vastness of textile supply chains. Sustainability rating and sustainability standards are going to require data to be truly qualitative. They also need to rely on a solid understanding of supply chain management and strategy-setting. Read more about supply chain management here, and about sustainability strategy here. Register for our webinar about sustainability strategy here.
- The question was also raised whether or not it would make sense for brands to publish certain datasets, and this is definitely something to consider.
We hope that the collaboration on all the above topics continues. The level of collaboration in general through the textile industry as exposited at ISPO 2016 deserves applause. As a whole, this industry has made a significant journey – and yes, there’s still a long way to go.
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