Much has been said about buyers’ exodus from China to lower cost markets. An increasing number of Chinese textile manufacturers are expanding operations to Belt and Road countries. However, China remains a stronghold for material buyers, especially for suppliers and brands that need assurance in quality and sustainability standards.
A country long plagued by environmental doom and gloom, the industry and the government are making proactive moves to return clarity to the hazy horizon and chemical-rich rivers. This year, the Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals (ZDHC) Programme has deepened its involvement in China through partnerships with two of the largest industry associations.
In collaboration with ZDHC, the China National Textile and Apparel Council (CNTAC) launched the Chemicals Stewardship Initiative 2020 to improve chemical management across the textile industry in China, driving best practice adoption and innovation to reduce the use of harmful chemicals.
In the meantime, the China Plastics Processing Industry Association (CPPIA) has signed an agreement with ZDHC to conduct a baseline investigation of hazardous chemical control in the synthetic leather industry in China, and use ZDHC tools to implement best practice.
On the policy front, following on from the activation of the Environmental Protection Law, China is moving forward with its climate change commitments. The National Reform and Development Council (NDRC) is set to roll out a national carbon trading programme next year involving six of its largest carbon-emitting industrial sectors, including the chemicals industry.
This September, a trial energy use trading programme was announced, targeting high energy consumption companies in Zhejiang, Fujian, Henan and Sichuan provinces. Local authorities will allocate energy consumption quotas to companies, who will have to pay if they exceed their limits.
While textile manufacturing is yet to be included in the cap-and-trade programmes, the pressure to curb inefficient energy use in the industry will only continue to build. China has committed to a reduction of carbon intensity by 2020 by 18% from 2015 levels, and will be delivering this commitment under the watch of international and domestic stakeholders.
Growing industry support and an improved policy environment may be good news to responsible buyers, but if technological barriers are too costly to remove, or if environmentally-friendly technology limits product innovation, upgrading for sustainability will remain unjustifiable to textile manufacturers. This limits the options of sustainable material sourcing.
In the coated fabrics segment, Covestro, a bluesign® system partner, offers a solution to fill this hole. INSQIN® is an integrated and complete package of technology and service for production of these key materials using waterborne polyurethane (PU) technology. The package encompasses all aspects of materials development, right through to production by certified manufacturers.
INSQIN® waterborne PU technology enables PU coated fabrics to be manufactured entirely without solvent, which brings significant improvements to worker safety as well as the elimination of environmental pollution risks caused by their use. The technology also reduces water consumption by up to 95% and energy consumption by up to 50% in the coating process.
INSQIN® also enables new possibilities in the design, comfort and performance of textile-based articles, thus helping customers address not only sustainability commitments, but also meet product and manufacturing innovation goals.
At the All China Leather Exhibition this year, Covestro announced technology and product breakthroughs in the INSQIN® range that significantly reduce the manufacturing cost of waterborne PU-coated fabrics, and that enable a wider range of effects in the technology.
INSQIN® base is a new application technology with accompanying products that enable PU base – a key intermediate in the manufacture of footwear upper, garment and bag materials – to be manufactured using waterborne PU. The bases can be embossed directly after production, saving cost via the elimination of a production step for the creation of the surface effects, and at the same time widening the effects range by allowing the producers to use existing embossing rollers. The technology works on existing manufacturing lines and does not necessitate significant investment from manufacturers.
Yet, technology alone cannot complete the circle of innovation. In recognition of this, Covestro established the INSQIN® Partner Manufacturer Program to link brands with manufacturers capable of efficiently delivering innovative materials and sustainability best practice.
Nick Smith, Global Head of Textile Coatings at Covestro (left), and Xue Taiwen, General Manager & Director of Kunshan Xiefu New Material Co., Ltd. signed for their partnership in October 2015.
Under the Program, Covestro provides world-class technical support to help partner manufacturers further develop their use of the INSQIN® technology. In return, the partner manufacturers receive verification of its production processes and management systems via a globally recognized third-party audit.
Since its launch in 2015, the Program has already enrolled three partners, each a leading manufacturer in different fields: Duksung Co., Ltd. from South Korea, and Kunshan Xiefu New Material Co., Ltd. and Guangdong Jinshan New Material Technology Co. from China.
In China, the alarm bells of water scarcity and energy overconsumption are ringing. It is only a matter of time the government puts more stringent requirements on the textile industry to step up efforts in process innovation for sustainable production. Covestro is committed to enabling the whole value chain of coated textiles to collaborate and drive innovation, so that ultimately, consumers worldwide can choose from a growing range of products with coated fabrics manufactured in a responsible and sustainable manner.