Nordic pulp makers are developing clean ways to turn birch and pine trees into clothes to help revive their industry and meet demand from fashion and furniture firms for alternative textiles to cotton.
STOCKHOLM, Sweden — Nordic pulp makers are developing clean ways to turn birch and pine trees into clothes or sofa covers to help revive their industry and meet demand from fashion and furniture firms for alternative textiles to cotton.
There has been no Nordic production of viscose, the main textile fibre from timber, since the last manufacturer stopped nearly a decade ago, partly on environmental grounds.
But a 2011 spike in cotton prices contributed to increased global demand for viscose and lyocell, the other major textile fibre from wood pulp. Production is dominated by Austria’s Lenzing, India’s Aditya Birla and South Africa’s Sateri.
Three Nordic mills export dissolving pulp, the product that can be turned into textile fibre. The industry would like to see textile fibre factories set up at home that will meet environmental rules and appeal to local firms such as IKEA and Hennes & Mauritz which want to project a green image.
“We have the forest here in the Nordics, we have our pulp mills. It would be better for us if more dissolving pulp was needed in our region,” said Markus Mannstrom, chief technical officer of Finland’s Stora Enso
The forestry industry, which accounts for a fifth of Finland’s and a tenth of Sweden’s exports, has been hit by lower newsprint demand and foreign competition.
But global output of pulp for textiles is expected to grow 30 percent by 2020 from 4.4 million tonnes in 2015, according to Oliver Lansdell at forest products industry consultancy Hawkins Wright.
Anticipating the rise in demand, in 2011 Sodra, the Swedish association of 50,000 small forest owners, converted a paper pulp machines so they could make textile pulp. Stora Enso did the same in 2012.
Sweden’s Domsjo, which has made dissolving pulp since the 1930’s and was bought by Aditya Birla in 2011, said demand has risen.
“We expect cotton output to peak while textile demand will keep growing,” said Dag Benestad, head of dissolving pulp production at Sodra.
The next step would be to set up factories at the mills, creating new jobs and saving money on energy and the cost of transporting for export. Sodra, Domsjo and Stora Enso are among those intensifying research into greener fibre production processes.
Stora Enso in 2015 opened a research centre in Stockholm that looks into how to make viscose production less toxic. Domsjo and Sodra are part of a large project looking at how best to integrate a textile factory with a mill so that the chemicals are recycled.
Recycling or replacing chemicals is essential to restarting production of textile fibre from timber in a region where the pulp industry’s image was also tarnished by heavy pollution. It now uses “closed loop” production that stops chemicals seeping out.
Carbon disulfide is the main polluter of viscose production. Swedish Research institute Innventia’s Fredrik Aldaeus, who is fine-tuning a method to make pulp that dissolves more easily with reduced or zero carbon disulfide, said a modified viscose fibre plant could be up and running within five years.
The main alternative textile fibre from timber pulp is lyocell which was first developed in the 1970s and has a cleaner manufacturing method than viscose. It has been marketed by Austria’s Lenzing as Tencel since the 1990s. Nordic researchers are trying to develop something similar. Herbert Sixta, who used to work at Lenzing, has led development at Aalto and Helsinki universities of a new lyocell-type fibre. “In three to four years we should be able to show if it’s commercially viable provided that we get the necessary financial support,” he said.
CHEERING THEM ON
H&M and IKEA, both at the forefront globally in their sectors on sustainability, are alongside smaller Nordic fashion brands such as Filippa K, are cheering on and cooperating with the pulpmakers, keen to sell products made using local forests to environmentally-conscious shoppers.
“We want them to find a more sustainable way to produce viscose,” said Cecilia Brannsten, sustainability expert at H&M, which has increased its use of Tencel in recent years because it has a better green profile despite being more expensive.
“Today’s viscose can’t directly be replaced with the more sustainable lyocell because they look and feel different.”
H&M and IKEA said they were providing funding for state- and industry-owned research institute Swerea, which recently launched an industrial-scale test of a new viscose-like process. They declined to say how much they had contributed.
Along with Sodra, they were also part of a consortium that in 2014 shelved a project using cold alkali as solvent amid differing opinions about how to proceed.
“We constantly look for innovations and innovators,” IKEA Group spokeswoman Josefin Thorell said in an email.
“We support the Swerea…project which we believe can contribute to a more sustainable future textile production,” but added that it was too early to say how long it would take to work out if the project was viable.
By Anna Ringstrom; editor: Anna Willard.
*This story first appeared on The Business of Fashion
** This post first appeared on Sustainable Brands here.
Today, global viscose giant Aditya Birla Group announced an industry-leading commitment to eliminate sourcing from the world’s ancient and endangered forests for all of its Viscose fibers, which are widely used in clothing and textiles.
Aditya Birla is India’s largest multinational conglomerate (with US$40B in revenue) and the world’s largest producer of Viscose, manufacturing 20 percent of the world’s supply of the material, which is made from wood pulp. The commitment applies to wood and pulp sourcing for all its mills, including those in Canada, Indonesia and China.
The textile giant worked with Canadian environmental group Canopy to craft this game-changing policy, which offers new hope for solutions in places such as Canada’s Boreal and Indonesia’s rainforests.
“We’re committed to avoiding any endangered forest fiber in our products and are excited to help drive innovation in the development of fabrics made from new fibers that reduce the pressure on the world’s natural forests,” said Kumar Mangalam Birla, Chairman of the Aditya Birla Group. “We and many of our customers in the fashion industry are equally committed to developing sustainable business solutions that help conserve forests and species.”
Aditya Birla’s leadership on this issue positions them as a collaborative partner responding to more than 25 major fashion brands that have developed similar endangered forest commitments with Canopy in the past 18 months. Since 2013, global brands including H&M, Zara/Inditex, Levi Strauss & Co, Marks & Spencer and designers such as Stella McCartney have joined Canopy’s Fashion Loved by Forests campaign and adopted commitments to phase out endangered forest fiber in their product lines. Aditya Birla’s new policy now sets a high bar for all other producers to meet.
“Aditya Birla may not be as sexy as clothing brands in terms of cache but they’re definitely hot in terms of alleviating impacts on forests,” Nicole Rycroft, Canopy’s founder and executive director, said via email. “Given that the top 10 rayon and viscose producers control 80 percent of global production, we’re excited about how this sets the whole supply chain in transformation.”
Aditya Birla’s policy includes an immediate commitment not to source fiber from endangered forests or endangered species habitat, such as Indonesia’s tropical forest and Canada’s Boreal Forest, unless meaningful conservation plans are in place.
The company is committed to exploring research and development opportunities for alternative fiber sources and new technologies that reduce environmental impacts and will identify opportunities to support existing conservation solutions, agreements and further new initiatives to advance sustainable sourcing and forest protection.
Back on the brand side of the equation, Canopy is not the only NGO working to eliminate deforestation and associated human rights abuses from fashion: Last month, Rainforest Action Network launched its Out of Fashion campaign, urging the “Fashion 15” group of companies — Ralph Lauren, Prada, LVMH, Tory Burch, Michael Kors, Vince, Guess, Velvet, L Brands, Forever 21, Under Armour, Footlocker, Abercrombie and Fitch, GAIAM and Beyond Yoga — to develop strong, time-bound commitments to protect forests and human rights.