Globally USD 460 billion of value is lost each year by discarding clothes that could still be worn

How Life Cycle Thinking helps developing Innovative Business Practices for African SMEs in the Textiles sector

As part of the three-year (2020 – 2023) European Union (EU) funded Innovative Business Practices and Economic Models in the Textile Value Chain (InTex)  project, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) is working with small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in Kenya, South Africa and Tunisia to help reduce environmental impacts and increase their knowledge on life cycle thinking, circularity and eco-innovation.

InTex is a joint global project, carried out between UNEP’s Consumption and Production Unit (CPU) and Life Cycle Initiative (LC Initiative), to facilitate the uptake and application of holistic life cycle thinking approaches, circularity and eco-innovation to achieve global goals faster and more efficiently. The uptake of such approaches is inherently linked to policy makers providing integrated and coherent policy packages that allow equal opportunities while ensuring upscaling and more impactful results. The project approach is therefore to support both policy makers and businesses in promoting and adapting innovative sustainable business models using life cycle science-based evidence.

The LC Initiative provides support to African SMEs on how to calculate and communicate the environmental footprint of their textile products through the collection of relevant Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) data and the generation of Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) studies. Recently, UNEP has released a video (at the beginning of this article) to showcase how the project is concretely supporting SMEs on the ground. It highlights the work of Africa Collect Textiles (ACT), one of the first Kenyan start-ups to participate in the InTex project. You will learn more about how ACT is working to integrate circularity and eco-innovation into their business model, how they are determining their PEF and implement life cycle thinking to up-cycle textile waste into quality rugs, carpets and toys.

The relevance of access to life cycle and environmental data

We are delighted to underline that the Global LCA Data Access Network (GLAD), developed and launched in 2020 by the public-private multi-stakeholder partnership of the LC Initiative,  is an integral element of the InTex project. The aim is to increase the access to environmental and life cycle data (towards developing and connecting national interoperable, PEF-compliant, LCA datasets for the textiles sector to GLAD) so that textiles businesses and policymakers can make better informed decisions and implement relevant strategies. Thus, businesses and member states will benefit from enhanced availability, accessibility, and interoperability of LCA data for the textile sector through GLAD. Activities in this project will also support the maintenance and, where necessary, continued development of GLAD.

Why the textiles sector is a high-impact priority for UNEP

Since the textile sector contributes significantly to the planetary crises of driving faster climate change, destroying nature, and raising pollution levels, UNEP has identified textiles as a high impact priority sector. UNEP works on providing strategic leadership and encouraging sector-wide collaboration to accelerate a just transition towards a sustainable and circular textile value chain, while supporting the sound management of chemicals. The InTex project is a key part of this work to develop and strengthen tools to support government commitments to the 2030 Agenda, through engagement with the private sector in the behavioural changes required to fulfil those commitments, and in the development of sustainable products, services, and markets. Therefore, the InTex project contributes to reducing the impacts of the triple planetary crises, and the project’s results will feed into UNEP’s wider textile portfolio.

UNEP is grateful for the support from the EU, and for the EU’s leadership on a sustainable textiles value chain. As outlined in the recently published EU Strategy for Sustainable and Circular Textiles, the InTex project aims to illustrate how engaging relevant textile value chain stakeholders can materialize and support the development of impactful policies and improvement of business practices towards more sustainability and circularity.

Therefore, the InTex project is working at the science-business-policy interface and through building upon global knowledge and national implementation, the project is aiming to:

  • Highlight how engaging relevant textile value chain stakeholders can materialize and support the development of impactful policies and improvement of business practices towards more sustainability and circularity.
  • Identify how to build the case for adopting more systematically valued retention processes (through assessing the potential environmental and socio-economic) impacts of adopting circular policies and practices in the textile value chain.
  • Emphasize that the application of life cycle approaches is key to inform policy-decision making.
  • Reinforce that applying the PEF methodology will provide a sustainable competitive advantage to companies and possibilities to access new markets.