At Textile Exchange, we are on a mission to drive a 45% reduction in the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that come from producing fibers and raw materials by 2030. We’ve landed on this target in line with what is needed from our industry to help limit global warming to 1.5°C.
Currently, virgin, fossil-based synthetic fibers like polyester and nylon account for the majority of global fiber production and related GHG emissions. They are a fundamental focus area for us because if we are to protect the 1.5°C pathway, we need to transition away from the extraction of virgin fossil fuels. This means holistically assessing the alternatives on offer, including existing preferred materials like recycled synthetics, and new areas of innovation, like biosynthetics made from natural, renewable sources such as agricultural waste, food crops, or plants.
With performance and technical properties that allow them to be used as a replacement for traditional synthetics, biosynthetics can be derived from sources like corn, sugar beet, sugarcane, wheat, and more. At Textile Exchange, we see their potential to move the industry away from non-renewable resources and to reduce climate impacts when compared to their fossil-based counterparts.
But, like all materials, we need to treat them with care and nuance. We’ve got to fully understand the impacts of different crops or residues in their regional contexts and manage them responsibly. This means going beyond greenhouse gas emissions, assessing their impacts on areas like water, soil health, biodiversity, and livelihoods too, as well as conducting further research on microfiber shedding.
To push for progress in this sector, we not only need bold goals, investments, and actions, but a holistic approach to measuring sustainability. With the required knowledge and data we need to do this, we believe that biosynthetics can be part of the industry’s broader journey towards a regenerative and circular future.
This guidance document has been developed by Textile Exchange in partnership with the Biosynthetics Round Table, to encourage discussion around the sustainability of biosynthetics and share the interim findings with a wider audience.