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Natural Dye Garden Promotes a Greener Fashion Supply Chain

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Denise Green, assistant professor of Fiber Science & Apparel Design, in front of the newly relocated natural dye garden in the courtyard between Martha Van Rensselaer Hall and the Human Ecology Building.

College of Human Ecology faculty and student efforts to advance sustainable approaches to textile and fashion design has led to the development of the Cornell Natural Dye Garden after a successful crowdfunding campaign that ended in fall 2016.

The project raised $10,365 for the development and cultivation of a dye garden, which will produce a variety of colors that come from the natural world and have a lower environmental impact.

“We know that synthetic dyes cause incredible environmental harm and pollute waterways. Human health is also impacted, particularly for laborers in the textile dyeing industries,” said Denise Green, assistant professor of fiber science and apparel design.

According to organizers, up to 200,000 tons of synthetic dyes are discharged into waterways around the globe every year, making textile dye plants the second-largest polluter of water after agriculture.

In many developing nations where textiles are produced, workers may not be properly protected from the toxic chemicals used to dye fibers and fabrics, making synthetic dyes hazardous to environmental and human health, Green said.

In contrast, natural dyes, some of which come from weeds, are nontoxic. Some of these dye plants have the ability to grow aggressively without herbicides or fungicides.

“We believe natural dyes are an opportunity to make a sustainable intervention in the apparel supply chain,” Green said.

In May 2015, Green, in collaboration with fellow fiber science and apparel design faculty and students, as well as Human Ecology Facilities Services and Cornell Botanic Gardens staff, planted a test garden of natural dye plants at the northeast corner of the Human Ecology Building overlooking Beebe Lake.

“That success led us to the idea to put the garden in a place that’s more accessible for students and more visible in terms of our college life,” Green said.

In spring 2016, Green and her students moved the garden to a plot located in the courtyard between Martha Van Rensselaer Hall and the Human Ecology Building. The relocation of the garden, according to Green, allows students and faculty to grow a wider array of dye plants to be used in teaching and research.

“The new location is highly visible,” Green said, adding that plans are in place to add educational signage for the 2017 growing season.

“Signage means that the garden won’t just be beautiful to look at, and valuable as a natural dye resource, but it will also be an opportunity to educate students, staff and the public about the plants we are growing and the range of colors they yield,” she said.

Beyond working on projects, Green hopes the garden will have deep and long-lasting impacts on fiber science and apparel design students who begin careers in the manufacturing and fashion industries.

“Our hope is they become conscientious citizens of the world who think about the impact that their design will have on the environment, on human health and on many people, which we don’t often think about when we consume fashion,” Green said.

*This story first appeared on Cornell News

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Archroma CEO Alexander Wessels on Driving Sustainability

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Color and speciality chemicals company Archroma celebrated three years in business on Oct. 1, marking the occasion by emphasizing its sustainability efforts.

“Even though it is still very young, Archroma has accomplished a great deal,” said Archroma CEO Alexander Wessels. “Archroma is already a leader in driving sustainability in the value chain. We intend to build on that position, making use of innovations we have developed and continue to develop for implementation use across our markets.”

The Basel, Switzerland-based compnay, founded in 2013, has grown quickly since inception. In 2014, Archroma acquired 49 percent of M. Dohmen, an international group specializing in the production of textile dyes and chemicals for the automotive, carpet and apparel sectors. In July 2015, it added the global textile chemicals business BASF. Archroma now has 25 production facilities, including 11 in the Americas, eight in the EMEA region, and six in Asia.

“Archroma is now on a strong top and bottom line growth curve,” said Wessels, “We have been rapidly expanding innovation expenditure since we carved out the business from its previous owner.”

A typical example of the company’s efforts to improve sustainability in the textiles industry is its work in dyeing systems for denim under its Advanced Denim brand, which last year was adopted by Patagonia to develop a new dyeing and manufacturing process.

Advanced Denim uses dyestuffs that bond more easily to cotton, minimizing the resource usage of traditional dyeing of denim. As a result, Patagonia reports it is using 84 percent less water, 30 percent less energy and emitting 25 percent less CO2 than conventional synthetic indigo denim dyeing processes.

“If all the world’s jeans were made using our Advanced Denim dyeing technology, we could save the same amount of water as that used by several large European cities,” said Wessels. “Our Advanced Denim solution is now increasingly being adopted by various brands across the world.”

This spring, the company also introduced eco-advanced solutions in its range of optical brightening agents (OBAs) for printing and writing papers. Both innovations, marketed under the names Leucophor ACS and Advanced Whitening, aim to offer solutions that require reduced dosage for papermakers, thereby lowering their transport costs and carbon footprint.

“It is a misconception that innovation and sustainability need to come necessarily at a premium,” said Wessels. “Archroma has shown that this is possible, and we intend to continue on this path well into the future.”

*This story first appeared on Rivet and Jeans