U.S.Textiles Embrace Sustainability Challenge

By Jim Borneman, Editor In Chief

During a panel discussion titled “Past, Present & Future”held during the Synthetic Yarn and Fabric Association’s (SYFA’s) 50th anniversary celebration, U.S. textile industry leaders shed light on the challenges their companies face as well as the significance of sustainability issues on their businesses.

The concept of sustainability has under-gone significant transformation over the years. Early initiatives focused on conserving water, gas, and electricity, as well as integrating recycling into the manufacturing process. But today, the concept extends much further. Textile products are now designed with sustainability in mind, taking into account the entire product lifecycle, manufacturing processes, with an eye on carbon neutrality.

One executive on the SYFA panel emphasized the importance of viewing sustainability broadly, stating,“When discussing sustainability, we often concentrate solely on environmental aspects, but it is crucial to consider the sustainability of the entire industry.

‘It’s not just about the raw materials; it’s about the people, the energy, and utilizing resources efficiently. When major retailers like Walmart prioritize sustainability, it goes beyond installing solar panels on their store roofs. It permeates every aspect of their operations. They push their suppliers to embrace sustainability in the same way they have demanded cost reductions.”

Virtually all panel members expressed concerns about the sustainability of their workforce.They emphasized the need to attract and recruit young talent, provide education and training, and establish mentorship pro-grams to nurture future industry professionals.

“Replacing employees is not only about finding bodies; it’s about preserving and transferring the knowledge and experience tenured employees bring to the table to a new generation,” one of the panel executives noted. “We have individuals with decades of service who possess irreplaceable knowledge. How can we capture and transfer that knowledge? How do we find individuals interested in pursuing these jobs today?”

Harnessing the power of digital technology may play a significant role in solving those challenges. The panel expressed a strong need to integrate machine data with non-machine data to make informed real-time decisions on the plant floor, particularly as experienced employees retire and their wealth of machine-specific knowledge is no longer available.

The discussion also touched upon changing business conditions and opportunities that have been influenced by sustainability initiatives. Many participants expressed their belief that the reshoring of textile business from Asia to the western hemisphere makes sense and is a real eventuality. Companies must strive for greater efficiency in terms of energy usage and labor management to make reshoring more appealing.

The conversation ultimately centered on a commitment to investment in sustainable design and innovation, investing in the workforce, minimizing the environmental impact of manufacturing processes, and enhancing overall operational efficiency.

The U.S. textile industry’s leaders recognize the significance of sustainability and its multifaceted impact on their businesses. Those who wholeheartedly commit to this challenge are laying a solid foundation for their company’s successful endurance, ensuring a sustainable and prosperous future.

May/June 2023