#OnlyOneEarth, this year’s theme for World Environment Day, was also the slogan of the first United Nations Conference on the Human Environment held in 1972. In the intervening span of fifty years, the climate crisis has severely intensified. It is estimated that sustainable lifestyles and behaviours can reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by 40-70% by 2050.
Our Hon’ble Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi also reiterated that the sustainable use of resources has been a way of life in India historically, and this approach is at the core of the recently launched Lifestyle for the Environment (LiFE) Movement. It seeks to bring about collective and creative change through individual actions and calls for creating a global network of individuals called Pro-Planet People, providing impetus for a futuristic, sustainable model of development.
Connecting these anecdotes, it is imperative to talk about the textiles and apparel sector, and its impact on the planet. The Indian textile and apparel sector is one of the largest in the world, estimated to be contributing five per cent to India’s GDP in 2019-20. In addition to constituting a significant share of India’s exports and domestic production, it is also the second largest employer in the country. In 2019-20, the sector was worth $108.5 billion in revenue for the Indian economy.
While the economic and employment benefits of the sector cannot be discounted, the environmental footprint of the sector is among the highest of major economic sectors. With water, land, and air pollution rampant across the production and supply chain, the energy and carbon footprint of the sector is also relatively high. Dependence on fossil fuels for energy production and transportation, and market invasion by synthetic fibers in the world of fast fashion, have drastically augmented the sector’s contribution to the climate crisis. In a business-as-usual scenario, by 2050, the sector is estimated to use up to 26% of the carbon budget associated with the two degrees Celsius pathway.
The sector’s impact on water resources is also multifaceted. Production of raw material (e.g., cotton) is a water-intensive process whereas processing and handling of textiles generates chemical- and microfibre-laden wastewater. It is well-known that many micro- and small-scale enterprises do not have optimum water-use efficiency and effluent treatment facilities. Additionally, plastic and fibre waste are also generated across the value chain.
With the urgency for systemic change posed by the climate crisis, the idea of ‘Sustainable and Slow Fashion’ is gaining global momentum as unsustainable practices within the sector are getting highlighted. In line with this, Governments are called to define clear developmental pathways for sectoral circularity.
In May 2022, the annual Davos Summit of world leaders was convened at the World Economic Forum, where the need to harness systemic innovation for ‘Fueling a Sustainable Fashion Movement’, including the role of investors and consumers, was emphasised. Similarly, civil society and research organisations globally are advocating for circular value chains to enhance the optimisation and recyclability of resources.
In India, the National Textile Policy 2000 and various targeted initiatives by the Ministry of Textiles (MoT), Government of India, have governed the country’s textile and apparel sector for the last two decades. A new National Textile Policy 2020 is currently in the draft stage. The MoT also anchors supplementary programmes like Driving Industry towards Sustainable Human Capital Advancement (DISHA), which includes capacity building measures and adoption of a self-regulatory code of conduct. Project Su.Re (2019) is another initiative that aims to understand sectoral sustainability, develop better sourcing policies and supply chains, and improve traceability of resources. It entails a financial commitment of INR 30,000 crore by 16 leading brands.
At the same time, NITI Aayog’s efforts have shaped the Circular Economy & Resource Efficiency (CE & RE) discourse in India. In 2017, it prepared the Resource Efficiency Strategy for India in partnership with the European Union-Resource Efficiency in India Initiative (EU-REI). The strategy focuses on the need for strengthening capacity, regulatory and efficiency measures to advance India’s climate and SDG agenda.
These developments contributed to framing of the National Resource Efficiency Policy (NREP) in 2020, which focuses on crucial economic sectors and prioritises textiles, packaging and plastics. However, it is important to note that while both the National Textile Policy and National Resource Efficiency Policy 2020 have specifications for adherence to general environmental standards, there is still a gaping need to mandate action for transitioning to circular processes in the textile and apparel sector.
With the release of union budget 2022, there is renewed focus to incorporate sustainability and circularity principles in high impact sectors. Measures by the Government are complemented by individual initiatives from industry, MSMEs, innovators, civil society, and research institutions.
It is though imperative to note that despite the momentum, there are significant gaps in furthering the circularity agenda, such as insufficiency or lack of:
- Policy guidelines to specify indicators and targets for the industry to achieve ‘circularity’ and introduce alternative approaches, define the composition of textiles to support innovation for effective Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) and recycling, as well as voluntary/statutory compliances;
- Capacity building measures to enhance skills of workers, technicians, and decision makers, and nurture an enabling ecosystem to achieve innovation, replication and scale-up;
- Creating a digital knowledge repository to enable access to best-practices, technology, and finance;
- Dialogue and exchange to connect with innovators and experts;
- Consumer sensitisation to inspire lifestyle changes by introducing incentives for takeback mechanisms, rental business models, design for circularity measures, etc.
The right push from policy and effective collaboration between Government, industry, and innovators in the textiles and apparel sector would facilitate an industry-wide transition to a circular economy at scale.
Kavya Arora, Junior Technical Expert – Climate Change and Circular Economy, GIZ India
Meghana Kshirsagar, Senior Advisor – Climate Change and Circular Economy, GIZ India
The views expressed in this article are personal and do not represent Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH as an organisation.
 World Environment Day | United Nations
 Textile Industry in India – Garment & Apparels Market in India (investindia.gov.in)
 Ellen MacArthur Foundation, A new textiles economy: Redesigning fashion’s future, (2017, http://www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/publications)
 NITI Aayog pitches for transition to Resource Efficiency and Circular Economy as an Economic Paradigm for New India (pib.gov.in) and Resource Efficiency Strategy
 Draft-National-Resourc.pdf (moef.gov.in)