The environment — the ultimate fashion victim?

Jon Lawson

How much water does it take to manufacture one pair of jeans? A colossal 7,600 litres, according to Stephen Leahy’s book, Your Water Footprint: The shocking facts about how much water we use to make every day products. Fast fashion is notoriously bad for the environment. While some of its impact is unavoidable, there are steps for manufacturers to take to improve their carbon footprint. Here, Jonathan Wilkins from EU Automation explains how automation can improve the energy efficiency in fashion manufacturing.

Fast fashion, as it has become known, relies on high productivity to produce new items quickly. Alongside the shocking amount of water required for this kind of production, the process also requires the use of toxic chemicals for colouring fabrics. In fact, textile dye is the second largest polluter of clean water globally. In rivers surrounding clothing manufacturing hubs, in countries such as Indonesia, toxicologists have reported toxic levels of mercury, lead and arsenic in the water.
According to The Carbon Trust, clothing manufacturing also accounts for around three per cent of the global productions of carbon dioxide emissions each year. Clearly, the world’s ongoing appetite for fast-moving fashion is having a detrimental impact on the environment. But, how can manufacturers make a difference?
Manufacturers can take steps improve their supply chain by choosing more sustainable suppliers of fabrics and dyes. However, in the world of fast fashion, increasing procurement costs can have a significant impact on profits and overall competitiveness.
That said, manufacturers can make small changes to improve their production lines — without experiencing any increase in costs. Improving machine performance is one of the easiest and most cost-efficient ways to increase efficiency, while reducing operating costs.
Making changes from inside the factory

Some manufacturing equipment such as motors, fans and pumps often work faster or harder than necessary wasting energy and can causing machines to break down earlier than expected. As the main contributor to carbon emissions in the manufacturing industry, motors can have a significant impact on the carbon footprint of a facility. However, improving their efficiency is simple.
One option is to buy a smaller, high efficiency motor that will work at the optimum speed to complete production. While this is an easy way to reduce carbon emissions, it can also be an expensive solution. Another option is to source a variable speed drive (VSD) or soft starter, to can control the power and speed of the motor as it operates.
Using intelligent automation, the motor can identify exactly how much energy is necessary to operate effectively — using no more or less than required. VSDs can either be bought new, or manufacturers can buy reconditioned or obsolete versions, if the equipment required is no longer manufactured by the original equipment manufacturer.
Improving the environmental impact of the fast fashion industry requires more than an investment in VSDs. While manufacturers cannot control every aspect of fashion production and certainly can’t save 7,600 litres of water per pair of jeans, they can make small changes to improve machine performance on the factory floor.


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