Interview mit Robert van de Kerckhof, Chief Commercial Officer und Vorstand, Lenzing AG – Lenzing Innovative by nature

Robert van de Kerkhof

The fashion industry is going through a highly necessary transformation in which true leaders establish close partnerships, with shared values and believes, to avoid that the innovations of today create the problems of tomorrow.

Q1: Why is sustainability so important in fashion?
The fashion industry has seen high growth rates over many years driven by increase in disposable income in emerging economies and the fast fashion segment. This growth has however come at a high price with regards to humanity and our environment. Many people are suffering or died in the textile value chain. You might recall the Rana Plaza building collapse in which over 1’100 people died as one of the worse incidents in the industry. Even today, many textile workers are often paid derisory wages and forced to work long hours under appalling conditions.

But also the environment is suffering due to a high amount of synthetic fibers and chemicals used along the entire textile value chain. Global apparel and footwear industry is responsible for around 10% of the global GHG emissions and 20% of global waste water emissions. Another significant impact on the environment is waste: each year more than 50 million tons textile waste ends up on landfills. And through washing and laundering of textiles, non-biodegradable micro plastics end up in our water and end up in the food chain.

As disposable income and population continue to increase globally, the amount of garments produced will continue to increase. The only way to meet the consumer needs of tomorrow is to have fully responsible supply chains with regard to sustainable raw materials and responsible production processes.

Q2: What are the challenges the industry is facing to improve its environmental impact?
There is no sustainability without transparency. Many leaders in the industry are making the necessary investments to green up their production processes, invest in people, and are publicly committing to improvements in sustainability. While this is long term the right strategy, short term it could lead to higher costs and to a competitive disadvantage if these investments are not recognized by customers and investors.

Management needs to ensure they are not greenwashing. They need to make fact-based decisions which is not always easy as many sustainability standards are not yet fully established and data from different sources can actually be in conflict. The textile value chain is highly complex and with very limited transparency. From raw material to consumer, often more than 5 different countries around the world, and up to 8 different companies can be involved.
Certification bodies are often striving for a high standard, but in many cases focused on a small aspect, hence incomplete and could therefore allow greenwashing or false conclusions.

Full transparency and traceability is key from raw material to consumer, with standard methodology on calculating impacts and independent industry wide auditing.

And with respect to the consumer, information and education are key to ensure the industry initiatives really make an impact. For decades, marketing has encouraged to buy more for less. More and more consumers however realize the impact their consumption behavior has on the environment. But what is good, what is harmful? What is a fair price? How do I ensure that if I pay a premium, this ends up with the right people and the right companies?
To address these challenges is the responsibility of the industry and the governments together.

Q3: What is your company contributing to ensure a positive impact?
As one of the world leaders in sustainability within the fiber industry, Lenzing has a well-defined sustainability strategy building on three pillars of Partnering for change, Circularity, and Greening the value chain.
The company unites the cellulosic fiber cycle of its wood-based products (biological cycle) with its innovative technologies that focus on closing loops and recovery (technical cycles).

Sustainable innovations are aimed at greening the value chain and circularity, with examples such as REFIBRA™ technology, the first commercial scale recycle product in the wood-based fiber industry. Another example is TENCEL™ Luxe, a breakthrough innovation that provides true eco-couture for the luxury segment in the fashion industry.

But we go beyond fibers by focusing on partnerships for systemic change, developing cross industry business cases to make progress on the circularity of Lenzing as well of the industry. An example is the cooperation with Textile Genesis on introducing blockchain technology to the textile value chain to make a step-change in traceability. A cooperation with JDA on supply chain transparency is expected to optimize supply chain efficiencies to significant reduce waste.

Our commitment is well defined in our sustainability report, detailing our sustainability strategy, and outlining our ambitious targets. As a recent highlight, Lenzing is proud to have now officially be added as the first fiber company to have set Science based targets to meet the Paris protocol in CO2 emission reductions

Summarizing, the fashion industry is going through a highly necessary transformation in which true leaders establish close partnerships, with shared values and believes, to avoid that the innovations of today create the problems of tomorrow.