5 Steps for a Sustainable Apparel Supply Chain - Green Perspective

The apparel supply chain is increasingly making a shift towards eco-fashion, and a green sustainable supply chain. By integrating green practices in the supply chain, companies can gain a competitive advantage by increasing environmental efficiency and improving their reputation. As more and more consumers are becoming environmentally aware, they prefer to purchase from corporations with green thinking.

Green Supply Chain Management (GSCM) aims to minimize or eliminate wastages including hazardous chemicals, emissions, energy and solid waste along the supply chains such as product design, material resourcing, and selection, manufacturing process, delivery of the final product and end-of-life management of the product.

There are several ways in which green supply chain management can be defined. The most cited definition of GSCM was given as the ‘application of environmental management principles to the entire set of activities across the whole customer order cycle, including design, procurement, manufacturing and assembly, packaging, logistics, and distribution’. Green Supply Chain Management can be represented as: GSCM= Green Purchasing + Green Manufacturing/ Materials Management + Green Distribution/ Marketing + Reverse Logistics. (Figure 1)

Sustainable Apparel Supply Chain - Green Perspective
Figure 1: Green Supply Chain Practices 

1. Product Designing

Designing stage offers the first opportunity for incorporating green practices in the supply chain. The entire value chain needs to be considered as the design is made to expand product lifespan, create greater durability, and greater opportunities for re-wear, reuse and recycle. 

Motivated designers can bring about change with an access of materials information during their early stage of material choice. The washing behaviour, types of raw materials, recyclability, durability and biodegradability of raw material needs to be taken into consideration at the design stage. The initial stage of design is important for the consequent sustainable procurement. 

For example, use of sustainable fabric as alternatives to like nylon and polyester. Sustainable product design must go beyond efficiency gains per product based on linear lifecycles, and instead focus on creating systems based on closed-loop models. This will support both sustainable production and consumption. The pattern team can contribute by developing each garment such that fabric use is maximised while minimising excess. 

2. Material Procurement

Sustainable or green procurement refers to the process of purchasing the goods or services within the entire supply chain, in a way that achieves value for money on a whole life basis in terms of generating benefits not only to the organisation, but also to society and economy, whilst minimizing damage to the environment. Essentially, this phase is at the beginning of the supply chain and has far-reaching implications on the environmental sustainability of the entire supply chain downstream.

Sustainable procurement involves collaboration and knowledge sharing with raw material suppliers. Several types of recycled material such as recycled cotton, polyester, nylon, wool, cashmere, and plastic could be used. Brands can work with advanced chemical restrictions list, as they vision towards safe products and a toxic-free fashion future. For procurement, the eco-supplier development cycle helps in realizing environmental improvements by price incentives in the scope of continual improvement (Figure 2). 

Eco-supplier development cycle
Figure 2: Eco-supplier development cycle |Source: Nagel (2018)

3. Product Manufacturing

In the manufacturing phase, units could incorporate closed loop manufacturing, de-manufacturing, and re-manufacturing to achieve a reduction in waste and pollution. This is possible to achieve through a shift to a cleaner production techniques, customer focus, worker involvement, and supplier integration. Energy efficiency of the plant as well as the efficiency of the manufacturing process play a crucial role in reducing the time taken to manufacture the garment.

By following vertical integration, manufacturers can contribute to increased sustainability by reducing the supply chain, logistics, and redundancy in business processes. Sustainability can also implemented by eliminating waste in various operations involved, through continuous improvement, use lean manufacturing tools, energy conservation, water harvesting, machine optimization, waste management, etc. 

4. Logistics and Retail

Logistics includes distribution, outbound logistics, and reverse logistics. This module of the supply chain encompasses transportation, packaging design, delivery, warehousing, inventory management, waste disposal practices, collection and reprocessing of used products (reverse logistics). 

The emissions from the factory transportation, shipping to destination country, warehousing, transportation to distribution centres, transportation to stores, and the time that the product stays in the store, all contribute to the carbon footprint of the garment. 

5. Consumer Use

The washing conditions, number of wear times before washing, usage till buying a new product decides the impact of consumer use of the product to the environment. Levi’s estimates that 37% of the climate impact of its clothes is down to consumers. 

The microfibres released from synthetic clothes in the washing cycle are making their way into oceans and contributing to microplastic pollution. To cater to these environmental concerns, there is a growing band of labels specifically designing items to be washed less and last longer. 

Consumer Use Phase of a Garment
Figure 3: Consumer Use Phase of a Garment | Source: https://polygiene.com/

Ahi, P. & Searcy, C., 2013. A comparative literature analysis of definitions for green and sustainable supply chain management. Journal of Cleaner Production, Volume 52, pp. 329-341.
Hervani, A. A., Helms, M. M. & Sarkis, J., 2005. Performance Measurement for Green Supply Chain Management. Benchmarking: An International Journal, 12(4), pp. 330-353.
Mohan, M., Priyangi, J., Vidhura, R. & Akvan, G., 2016. Supply/ Value Chain Analysis of Carbon and Energy Footprint of Garment Manufacturing in Sri Lanka. Sustainable Production and Consumption, Volume 5, pp. 51-64.
Nagel, M., 2006. Environmental Quality in the Supply Chain of an Original Equipment Manufacturer: What Does It Mean?. In: J. Sarkis, ed. Greening the Supply Chain. s.l.:Springer , pp. 325-340.

Dipanwita Ray

Dipanwita Ray is a graduate in Fibres and Textile Processing Technology, and is currently pursuing her master's degree in Fashion Technology from NIFT, New Delhi. She is interested in textile chemistry, functional garments, and apparel supply chain.

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