When Fristads wanted to develop a sustainable collection, they asked themselves how they could prove that the clothes really were sustainable. The answer was to produce an environmental declaration for each garment, and regulatory framework for this. Together with RISE, the first regulatory framework for how to calculate the environmental impact of clothing based on its entire life cycle has been developed.
A t-shirt, a fleece, a pair of work trouser and a work jacket. These are the four garments selected from Fristads’ Green Collection for which we now know actually how much they impact the environment.
– We were commissioned to develop a sustainable collection, says Lisa Rosengren, Head of R&D Raw Materials at Fristads. We thought a lot about how we would tackle this. There is a lot of talk about sustainable garments in our industry, but how do we know if the garments are actually sustainable or not? The use of sustainable fibres on it is own is not enough.
Lisa contacted Sandra Roos, a researcher at RISE, who proposed that the Fristads should use ISO 14025 as a basis - this is the international standard for the environmental declaration of products based on life cycle analysis. By using an environmental declaration, EPD, it is possible to prove that the garments are sustainable.
– However, in order to issue an environmental declaration, there must be a regulatory framework for each category of product to ensure that the calculations are made in the same way. Otherwise it is not possible to compare the results, explains Sandra Roos.
First in the world
The regulatory framework is called PCR (Product Category Rules) and Fristads Borås was the first in the world to create a PCR for garments. Creating a PCR means deciding which processes in the production chain to take into account. For clothing, it is about the cultivation of, for example, cotton or flax, spinning of yarn, weaving, dyeing and sewing.
But having knowledge about the entire life cycle of the garment also requires that the manufacturing company looks closely at all of their subcontractors.
– For us, much of the work was about getting our subcontractors involved in the journey, explains Lisa Rosengren. We have a close and very good collaboration with our subcontractors, but since no one has set up a regulatory framework for garments in the past, we needed to be clear about what kind of information we needed. Ultimately, all our subcontractors have been very positive about this initiative.
Based on the UN climate panel
The methods and system boundaries used in the project were taken from among other things the UN climate panel IPCC, with it also being an important factor for interested parties to know how the comparative figures are calculated and that they comply with ISO standards.
The figures that buyers will be able to compare in the future describe, for example, carbon emissions during the garment's life cycle, the amount of water required and the amount of oxygen-consuming substances (for example fertiliser) used.
– Although the EU will only require a environmental declaration according to ISO 14025 (the so-called PEF, Product Environmental Footprint) in, for example, public procurement, I hope, of course, that the values will also be available in shops. Some companies sell both to the public sector and to private individuals, says Sandra Roos.
According to her, many more facts are needed to enable consumers to make environmentally smart clothing choices:
– Yes, today companies make a lot of green claims about their products entirely without any foundation. Most of what is communicated is irrelevant.
The UN has also taken initiatives to reduce the environmental impact of clothing and fashion industries. The Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action launched in December 2018 calls for a reduction in emissions of 30 percent by 2030 with no net emissions at all by 2050.
– Many companies have signed the proclamation. But it will be difficult to achieve the goals if you do not know how to measure the impact of your sustainability work. But that can actually now be done, says Sandra Roos.
Completely new way of working at Fristads
Work on the sustainable collection has had an impact on the way of working for Fristads as a whole.
– We think in a completely different way now when we are developing a garment, says Lisa Rosengren. We have got a fantastic tool that lets us see how sustainable a garment can be.
During the project, conventional cotton and conventional colours were replaced by organic alternatives. The fleece uses recycled polyester from PET bottles with a declared background. Furthermore, the clothes got a cleaner design with less detailing. Something that saves sewing time and therefore energy.
– The thing that has the most impact when manufacturing in many Asian countries is actually electricity for machines and energy for heating, because virtually all energy comes from fossil sources, usually coal, says Sandra Roos.
Further signs of how thorough Fristads have been in the process of developing the sustainable collection are evident in the packaging of the garments. Instead of packing each garment in its own plastic bag, folding technology is used that makes the garments take up less space when being shipped.
– We are doing military inspection folds, laughs Lisa Rosengren.
Ready for recycling
The environmental declaration so far only covers production, but the garments from Fristads are ready to be declared for recycling as well, but the market is not ready for this yet.
– For example, we have a button that is screwed in, so that it can be easily removed and the metal separated during recycling, says Lisa Rosengren.
Fristads has received a lot of attention regarding the collection, and Lisa Rosengren hopes that the initiative will make an impression in the industry:
– I hope that a lot of people will follow suit so that we can make a real environmental impact, she concludes.