United By Action: Catalyzing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in Textiles

Textile Exchange has committed to creating a target call to action for the textile industry around adopting the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDGs are a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity.

what are the sustainable development goals (SDGs)?

The United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals, officially known as Transforming our World: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, are a set of 17 “Global Goals” with 169 targets between them. The 17 SDGs represent aspirational goals addressing social, economic and environmental problems throughout the world. The SDGs are universal in their application and while 2030 seems in the distant future, it is a mere 13 years away. In order to achieve the SDGs within this relatively short time frame, Textile Exchange believes that its Members and the apparel and textile industry (Industry) must start integrating the SDGs into their own business strategies.


At Textile Exchange, we believe we can advance the SDG agenda by:

  • Educating the industry on the SDG opportunity;
  • Defining priorities for SDG engagement through a stakeholder process;
  • Facilitating integration of the SDGs into the textile value network;
  • Leveraging existing and new collaborative tools to assist the Industry in measuring and reducing impacts of individual actors and the industry as a whole;
  • Developing industry standards that set global benchmarks and shape the direction of land management and ecosystem services;
  • Identifying opportunities for collective Industry action;
  • Developing a textile-specific industry matrix for preferred fibers and other textile best practices to deliver on the SDGs; and
  • Reporting and communicating on the Industry’s SDG performance.

business case for the SDGs

The themes covered by the SDGs such as poverty, hunger, health and wellbeing, education, equality, sanitation, decent work to name a few all reflect issues that not only impact quality of life, security and fundamental human rights across the globe but also directly impact the apparel and textile value network. Textile Exchange and its Membership of brands, retailers and suppliers is in a perfect position to catalyze action under Sustainable Development Goals for our Sector as they have done for fiber and materials and standards.


PREFERRED FIBERS DELIVER ON THE SDGs |  Textile Exchange has spent the last 15 years making the business case for the importance of companies in the Apparel and Textile sectors to develop a fiber portfolio which includes “preferred fibers.” Preferred fibers and materials (PFM) are defined as a fiber, material or product that is ecologically and socially progressive; one that has been selected because it has more sustainable properties in comparison to other options.

Ways to recognize or achieve a preferred status include:

  • A recognized industry standard in place that confirms the preferred status
  • Sustainability criteria developed through a formalized, multi-stakeholder process
  • Objectively tested or verified as having superior sustainability attributes, such as through a peer-reviewed Life Cycle Assessment

The goal is that PFMs are produced to a globally accepted standard, with strict criteria that qualifies the product as preferred, and can be traced through the supply chain. Based on Textile Exchange research and its Material Snapshots, preferred fibers deliver lower impacts on agricultural impacts, water consumption, energy consumption and waste to name just a few areas.  In the case of organic cotton, Textile Exchange has made the business case that it can deliver on all of the SDGs.  Check out our Material Snapshots here.

BENCHMARK YOUR COMPANY’S SDG STRATEGY | At Textile Exchange, we believe that adoption of more preferred fiber and materials is one of the barometers of meaningful transformation within the textile industry. For the first time, we’ve created a link between the choice of preferred fiber and materials and the collective impacts under the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which have an expiration date of 2030 – a mere 13 years away. A preferred fiber and materials strategy is no longer simply a ‘nice to have’. It has become integrated into the successful business models of many TE Members and is increasingly demanded by consumers and scored by investors. In 2016, 28 of the 71 participating companies are reporting for the first time. Textile Exchange is presently designing the disclosure framework for its 2017 Preferred Fiber and Materials Benchmark Report so that it can offer its Members the opportunity to continue to benchmark their SDG impacts against the industry.

TEXTILE EXCHANGE VALUE NETWORK AND SDG ROUNDTABLE | Textile Exchange has launched an “SDG ACTION ROUNDTABLE” (the “Roundtable”) for the purpose of encouraging apparel and textile brands globally to collaborate on goal setting and reporting under the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Textile Exchange plans to create, through a series of Roundtable discussions, a forum for the development of a plan for the Industry to collaborate on achieving positive SDG outcomes and impacts. We invite you to help us achieve the SDG Agenda by supporting the Roundtable by contacting us.

LEARNING CENTER | Textile Exchange has a growing body of webinars to help companies map their supply chain, develop a fiber strategy, implement standards and create a plan to incorporate the SDGs into their strategies. Please contact us or check out our Learning Center.

SDG Resources

SDG Compass

SDGCompass.org, developed by Global Reporting Initiative, UN Global Compact and World Business Council for Sustainable Development, released a Guide that includes a simple approach to engagement based on five steps: understanding the Goals, defining priorities, goal setting, integrating sustainability and reporting.  Benefits to engagement with the Goals:

  1. Identifying future business opportunities
  2. Enhancing the value of corporate sustainability
  3. Strengthening stakeholder relations and keeping the pace with policy developments
  4. Stabilizing societies and markets
  5. Using a common language and shared purpose

An interactive feature of SDGCompass.org is the searchable inventory of existing business tools mapped against the Goals.  It can be searched by SDG, by Tool Developer or by Keyword.  For example, if a company desires to find available tools for measuring water impacts in its supply chain under SDG 6, the database will generate a list of relevant available tools.

UN Global Compact 2018 Toolkit

The UN Global Compact offers a series of resources supporting engagement with the Goals, including a list of SDG-specific reasons for why business should engage.  The Compact is also developing a number of SDG tools (known as Action Platforms) as part of their 2018 Toolkit to advance the Goals.  Based on the Compact’s Ten Principles, the Action Platforms will include:

  • The Blueprint for SDG Leadership
  • Reporting on the Goals
  • Breakthrough Innovation for the Goals
  • Financial Innovation for the Goals
  • Pathways to Low Carbon & Resilient Development
  • Health is Everyone’s Business
  • Business for Inclusion
  • Business for Humanitarian Action and Peace
  • Decent Work in Global Supply Chains

Industry Matrices

UN Global Compact and KMPG have released a series of SDG Industry Matrices for different industries, including Food, Beverage and Consumer Goods and Industrial Manufacturing. Each Matrix “provides industry specific ideas for action and industry specific practical examples for each relevant SDG.  It profiles opportunities which companies expect to create value for shareholders as well as for society.”   While examples of apparel companies are included, Textile Exchange believes that there is a need for more specific Textile-sector guidance and has received a proposal from KPMG to co-publish such a Matrix.  The project will be presented to the Roundtable at its next meeting.

Methodology of Engagement

Various authorities have released guides to help map a company’s engagement with the Goals, including PWC’s Navigating the Goals: a business guide to engaging with the UN Goals and its related interactive SDG selector based on  Make it your business: Engaging with the Goals. PWC also released Navigating the Goals, a business guide to engaging with the Goals.

One less well known, yet comprehensive methodology designed specifically for the private sector is known as the ‘Goals Methodology’ (GoalsM).  Goals reported by Dr. Djordjija Petkoski for a German-Mexican initiative includes at its core the following Process of Engagement, which is offered here as one example of a methodology for engagement:

  1. Articulate the big picture
  2. Goals segmentation and stakeholders mapping
  3. Engagement at the corporate level
  4. Strategic collective action initiatives
  5. Implementation
  6. Capacity development and knowledge and innovation exchange
  7. Measuring impact and reporting

The Process of Engagement module is one of five modules that allow for greater flexibility in taking into account the connections between internal strategies and external stakeholders, frameworks and avenues of engagement (including philanthropy).  For additional information on Goals, please click here.

There are a number of additional tools being developed to assist companies engage with the Goals and report on their activities and Textile Exchange’s goal is to evaluate which tools and practices for the Industry and make recommendations to the Roundtable.

See SDG Compass Guide, https://sdgcompass.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/019104_SDG_Compass_Guide_2015_v29.pdf .

For a list and links to PWC’s SDG tools, see https://www.pwc.com/gx/en/services/sustainability/sustainable-development-goals/mapping-the-way.html.

Part of the bilateral cooperation between Mexico and Germany, GoalsM was developed “to identify where corporate objective align with development objectives.” There are five building blocks of the system:

  • GoalsM Diamond (4 Elements are Good Governance and Rule of Law; Regulation, Competition and Standard; Complimentary SDG Institutions; Corporate Policies and Structure);
  • GoalsM Business Case (arguments that support the business case for private sector engagement with the Goals);
  • GoalsM Stages of Response to SDG Pressures (5 stages of response including Ignorance, Following the Law; Operations; Core Business/Corporate Strategy; Strategic Collective Action);
  • GoalsM Stages of Engagement (Philanthropic Approach; Projects outside/within Corporate Core Competencies; Integral Part of Corporate Core Strategies; Strategic Collective Action).
  • GoalsM Process of Engagement (as outlines in the body of these Research Notes).

For additional details of the GoalsM, see https://www.gob.mx/cms/uploads/attachment/file/64854/2_Goals_as_Business_Cases.pdf.

Comprised of five levels of analysis: (a) Global around the Goals, (b) National and Subnational development priorities, (c) Geographic location, economic zone or cluster, (d) Supply Chain, and (e) SMES Engagement.

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