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Making Responsible Materials Choices

Posted on November 9th, 2015 by in New Materials & Applications


Chris Walker discusses the importance of making responsible materials choices:

For more than 20 years, the term “climate change” has been on our radar. Fossil fuels, power stations, passenger vehicles. They’re all labeled as the main culprits. But there are plenty of other big offenders that most of us tend to simply overlook.

A report recently published by MIT’s Materials Systems Laboratory (MSL) highlights the significant impact that some of the materials we use every day has on climate change. In particular, the report focuses on fabric and textile production and compares the impact with other activities like power generation or driving. And the numbers viewed in that context are a little surprising. For example, it’s estimated that the greenhouse gas emissions generated by polyester production for use in textiles alone is equal to that produced by 185 coal fired power plants. This year, 400 billion square meters of fabric will be produced by the worldwide apparel industry. That’s enough to cover the state of California completely.

The question of whether we should, and if so, how we should make more sustainable materials decisions is not unique to the textile industry though. This is a theme which runs through every industry on the planet, at least to some extent, even if only indirectly.

To quote the MSL report: “This challenge puts the materials community – that is, the industries and individuals who work with or make decisions around materials – in a unique position to enable sustainable patterns of consumption. Materials are not simply a bundle of physical properties; materials influence the manner in which a product is fashioned, the form of that product, and, ultimately, its performance while in use.”

In response to the report, Climate CoLab have launched a competition with the intent of finding novel ideas on how to engage industries, manufacturers and the public in valuing and adopting lower impact materials. There’s a $10,000 prize up for grabs for the winning idea and the deadline for entry is Jan. 29, 2016.

Although there is clearly lots that can be done to reduce the environmental impact of the apparel and textile industry, there is a broader question to ask here too: How do we, in our professional and personal lives, make choices about materials in a sustainable, cost effective and responsible way? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

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