Feedback on the Sustainable Products Initiative (EU)

Kirsi Laitala and Ingun Grimstad Klepp have submitted feedback on the Ecodesign for Sustainable Products Regulation proposal on behalf of Consumption Research Norway. In the following, you can read the introduction. Click this link to read the whole feedback document (eu.com). The clothing research group also sent feedback on the Sustainable textiles strategy to Miljødirektoratet (under the Ministry of Climate and Environment), click here to read the feedback.

Feedback from Consumption Research Norway (SIFO)

Consumption Research Norway (SIFO) would like to thank the European Commission for the opportunity to give feedback on the Ecodesign for Sustainable Products Regulation proposal.
Our feedback concerns textiles that are very complex products, socially, aesthetically, functionally, and technically. The main problem lies in overproduction, and therefore setting requirements for eco-design can have unintended effects. For example, when setting criteria for more physically durable clothing, longer-lasting products will first and foremost contribute to greater accumulations and when they are discarded, they still retain the potential useful lifespan. Only about 37% of garments are disposed of because they are worn out or broken. Therefore, it is important that the directive also takes into consideration the other design aspects that impact length of product lifespans, such as changes in fashion, and poor fit of garments.


EU policy places great responsibility on consumers to bring about the reductions in environmental impact by choosing the least polluting products. However, within clothing, the difference in environmental impact between products is not large enough, and secondly, there is a lack of reliable information available about these differences. There are no «sustainable clothes» – rather there is rampant overproduction. The main problem is related to the quantity and not to the individual items.
In connection with product passports for textiles, access to information about production year will ensure a greater opportunity for consumers, authorities, and the waste industry to map how long things are used and last. The fiber labeling should also be updated to include information about the content of environmentally harmful chemicals.


Most clothes can be mended, and the majority of repairs are quite easy. When they are not repaired, it is usually because they are so cheap that this does not “pay off”, either in terms of using time or money for the repair. Therefore, determining repairability should be connected to the value of garments. Examples of non-repairable clothing include those with non-replaceable batteries or fabrics with Elastane. Elastane in fabrics can make them more durable, but when the Elastane has lost its elasticity, the clothes can no longer be repaired.


We recognize the urgency of building a larger second-hand market and a textile recycling industry in Europe. This will prevent landfill and the export of waste to countries without proper waste management. However, this entails the danger of continued spread of chemicals and materials including plastics. The requirement of using recycled fibers can in some cases lead to products with poorer use properties.
Due to the global overproduction of clothing, there are many products that are not needed or wanted, and that must go away somehow. What are the alternatives if the destruction of unsold consumer products is prohibited? We believe that this problem should be tackled earlier in the value chain, for example by using financial penalties against overproduction/import, measured for example by the number of unsold products, or that are returned, go on sale, or otherwise clearly are not desired.


We wish you all the best with this important work and hope to contribute to that the knowledge of consumption will be used actively in the design of the directive to avoid unintended adverse effects of good intentions.

Local clothing: What is that? How an environmental policy concept is understood

Ingun Grimstad Klepp, Vilde Haugrønning & Kirsi Laitala

The textile industry is characterized by global mass production and has an immense impact on the environment. One garment can travel around the world through an extensive value chain before reaching its final consumption destination. The consumer receives little information about how the item was produced due to a lack of policy regulation. In this article, we explore understandings of ‘local clothing’ and how the concept could be an alternative to the current clothing industry. The analysis is based on fifteen interviews with eighteen informants from Western Norway as part of the research project KRUS about Norwegian wool. Five ways of understanding local clothing were identified from the interviews: production, place-specific garments, local clothing habits, home-based production and local circulation. We lack a language with which to describe local clothing that covers local forms of production as an alternative to current clothing production. As such, the article highlights an important obstacle to reorganization: local clothing needs a vocabulary among the public, in politics and in the public sector in general, with which to describe the diverse production processes behind clothing and textiles and their material properties.

Click here to see the article (ingentaconnect.com)

Textile Cleaning and Odour Removal

Kirsi Laitala, Ingun Grimstad Klepp & Vilde Haugrønning

Consumers’ textile care practices today are characterized by frequent laundering. The importance of the removal of odours has increased, especially the smell of sweat. This chapter summarizes knowledge about removing odour from textiles. It provides information on suitable cleaning methods for different textile fibres and types of soils. The considered cleaning methods include laundering, stain removal, airing, hand wash, and professional cleaning methods. The cleaning result from laundering depends on water, washing temperature, length of washing cycle, types and amounts of laundry chemicals, and mechanical agitation applied. Textile material and type of soil that needs removal will determine the right mix of these factors.

Inherent fibre properties affect the soiling characteristics of garments. Comparisons of odours retained in textiles have shown that wool has the least intensive odour, followed by cotton, and synthetic polyester and polyamide garments have the most intense odour. Most textiles can be washed with water and detergents, which are more efficient in the removal of many odorous soils than dry-cleaning, but low-temperature laundering and/or lack of chemical disinfectants such as bleaches can contribute to odour build-up in textiles and in the washing machine. These aspects contribute to the environmental impacts of textiles.

Book chapter in Odour in Textiles: Generation and Control (taylorfrancis.com).

The Consumer Perception of Odour

Ingun Grimstad Klepp & Kirsi Laitala

Human olfaction sense is one of the highly underestimated senses since historical times. Fortunately, this has changed in recent times, as the perception of odour or scent by people has received increasing attention through several research works from different scientific disciplines. Our sense of smell and scent affects our lives more than previously assumed, influencing how we think, act, and behave. Odours both evoke and create memories. The perception of odours is also culturally and situationally dependent. However, there is still a lot that we don’t know about the influence of odour or scent on an individual’s characteristics and odour studies are hindered by the lack of vocabulary. The effect of pleasant odour on the shopping behaviours of customers is one highly researched area, while very few studies have focused on body odour perception. Most of the time body odour is related to self-hygiene and cleanliness, but understanding about the complete social aspects behind odour perception by humans is still at an infant stage. This chapter reviews the current status of consumer research on body odour and environmental odour or scent perception. The chapter also addresses the role of textile materials on body odour perception.

Click here to see the book chapter in Odour in Textiles: Generation and Control (taylorfrancis.com)

What does the Minister of the Environment think about apparel and the environment?

Tone Skårdal Tobiasson & Ingun Grimstad Klepp.

This is a translated version of an op-ed first published by tekstilforum.no. Click here to see the original version (tekstilforum.no)

This is not easy to ascertain from two answers sent to Conservative Member of Parliament Liv Kari Eskeland in response to her questions about the EU’s new Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) scheme, which is in danger of labeling natural fibers as the least environmentally friendly.

What we are wondering is simply whether Espen Barth Eide is not worried about the galloping use of polyester and acrylic, with subsequent problems such as microplastics and increasingly cheaper and worse clothes? Is he really for a further increase in the proliferation of synthetic clothing which, after a brief appearance in our wardrobes, is exported lightly used out of the country to an uncertain fate? And in case why? We do not know the answer, but will explain why we ask the questions.

The case is this. There have been repeated questions about PEF, also from the Conservative parliamentary representative Liv Kari Eskeland, who has been involved in the case on behalf of local textile industry. In the first answer, the Minister of Climate and Environment writes that he is familiar with «that synthetic textiles such as polyester are best when it comes to some environmental impacts, while for other environmental categories natural fibers have less negative impact». This was followed up by Eskeland, who is from Stord (the local small town) and who knows the wool industry well.

As a business-savvy person, she is politically engaged, lively concerned about possible threats to Norwegian businesses. The answer to her follow-up question is surprising because it does not discuss which areas synthetic fiber (ie plastic) are environmentally better than wool, but instead addresses the relationship between environmental impact from cotton and synthetic fibers. Why? Does the Minister think that all natural fibers are the same? And Norway has no cotton production, so here Norwegian business interests are not threatened, only Norwegian consumers’ access to a textile material they love.

The next issue in this ‘package of wonder’ is the scientific content. The Minister presents two different sources for the environmental benefits of plastics. One is land use. And yes, it is true that in life cycle analysis (LCA) the square meters of “space” a business takes, is heavily considered. It is almost in the nature of things that natural fibers take up more “space” in production than oil. But this comparison between square meters used, for example, for grazing against oil refineries is easy to criticize. Because there are very different “uses” of land, and grazing has not only negative, but also many positive effects (which are not included), and it is also a question of what the alternatives are.

Very few – and certainly not Barth Eide – think it would be exactly the same to have an oil refinery or a polyester factory versus pasturing sheep, as the nearest neighbor? And when the area it once took for dinosaurs and others to live and die, and then turn into oil, is not included, it is because time is not included in the calculation. Neither how long it has taken to produce the oil, nor the time it will take to break it down again. The comparison of the space to cultivate something against the space industry takes, shows first and foremost how such tools as LCAs fall short when nature and synthetics are compared directly. This is also the core of the criticism of PEF. And one of the reasons why over 60 EU politicians have now sent letters to the Commission, because they are concerned about the way this will be done in the planned labeling scheme (https://www.makethelabelcount.org/).

The other basis for his evaluation that the minister points to, is water consumption and again the comparison is polyester against cotton. There is a heated debate on this issue. It is almost a bit shocking that the documentation to which he refers is a report from SIFO from 2012. It is of course nice that SIFO’s work is valued, but this report is based on figures from 2007, which in turn are based on figures from the previous millennium. Knowledge about environmental impacts has changed a great deal in these years, and in general LCA is considered to be ‘fresh produce’ with a perishable date, and then we are talking about a few years before they lose their value. LCAs should be repeated at least every five years, many say every three.

Both we, Barth Eide and the report he refers to that compares fibers believe that the difference between the fibers is very small, global average figures taken into account, and that the most important thing is that clothes are made from the fibers that are best suited for the purpose. Then they are used for a long time and a lot, and then we appreciate them and take good care of them. The problem is that as PEF now develops, there will be large differences between the fibers, and it is the natural fibers that come out the worst. Many people actually like natural fibers, national costume shirts in linen, sweaters in wool, and maybe even a silk shawl or tie, but wool is no longer wool, but full of acrylic and polyester, and cotton is increasingly “polycotton”.

Polyester national costumes will hardly be inherited. In many products, plastic is best and the synthetic fibers are also much better than other fibers. However, the rapid increase in the use of synthetic fibers, and the even faster increase planned by the industry, has not come because synthetics are the best. Developing a labeling scheme that will label plastic as green is like pouring gasoline on the fire in a world that needs to cool down. Polyester is today over 60% of textile fiber production and the only way the fashion industry can continue to grow. This is also why the industry puts so much effort into greenwashing plastic. They can do this job just fine without the help of a Norwegian Minister of Climate and Environment or a European labeling schemes.

That’s why we’re wondering. Does Espen Barth Eide know what was actually in the letter he signed? We have a hard time believing that he is an ordinary plastic pusher, even though the government’s oil policy surprises more than us. Is his highest desire really to remove the few clothes that are still found in natural materials from the market? And make it even more difficult to make a living from wool production and the wool industry in Norway? Liv Kari Eskeland and the others in the Conservative Party are probably also wondering the same. That is why the Conservatives’ Mathilde Tybring-Gjedde, Sandra Bruflot and Mari Holm Lønseth presented a representative proposal in the Storting on 17 February for stricter requirements for the textile industry. The government is thus squeezed from both the right and the left in politics, and interestingly enough mainly by female representatives. The Conservative Party’s proposal includes PEF, and both the problems with plastic and microplastics are mentioned. If Barth Eide really wants a future clad in plastic, he now has the opportunity to say it loud and clear. We are waiting in anticipation.

UCRF: Themed Local Assembly in Oslo

8 March, 08:00-09:30, OsloMet, Stensberggata 26, Oslo

A twist on the usual Union of Concerned Researchers in Fashion Local Assembly format, this themed Local Assembly will concentrate on textile fibres. Points for discussion can be tabled by any UCRF member in advance or raised on the day.

Theme: Textile fibres, key themes and challenges

Date: 8 March 2022
Time: 8am – 9:30am local time. Light refreshments will be available.
Location: OsloMet, Oslo, Norway
Address: Stensberggata 26, 0170 Oslo

The Local Assembly gathering will be in-person, but the themes for discussion can be tabled by UCRF members world-wide to ensure that fibre-related concerns in all locations are present.

All participants will be invited to share their fibre knowledge, these will include UCRF members and fibre and LCA experts Ingun Grimstad Klepp and Kirsi Laitala. A summary will be circulated following the event.

Register your interest by 28 February by email via this link.

Click here to read more about UCRF (concernedresearchers.org).

The COP26 plastic uniforms are a disaster for the environment

Ingun Grimstad Klepp, Tone Skårdal Tobiasson, Ingrid Haugsrud

The UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, COP26, is in full swing. The event aims to be carbon neutral. The guests will be served local food and are encouraged to walk, cycle or use public transport. The clothes should also be environmentally friendly. A thousand volunteers have been given a small wardrobe to use during the climate conference. Glasgow City Council boasts of the “stylish uniforms” that are supposed to be made of “sustainable and recycled materials”, but without specifying what or how.

Sustainable materials?

Claims about sustainable materials are easily thrown around. Clothing production is a very complex process with many different stages. Most often, and also in the case of these uniforms, it is unclear what makes them sustainable. In our view, clothes that are called sustainable should be produced locally and with dyes, fiber and other inputs from, for example, regenerative agriculture (i.e. agriculture that builds the carbon content and the soil).

Why not develop a uniform based on local Scottish traditions and reuse?

The initial information released about the clothes did not state what they are made of, but by contacting the manufacturer, we got an answer. The hoodies, polo shirts, jackets and backpacks are all made from 100 percent recycled polyester from plastic bottles. The trousers are made from a mixture of 65 percent of the same polyester and 35 percent organic cotton. They provide no information about dyeing and finishing – the most polluting part of clothing production.

After repeated inquiries, we were told that the uniforms are produced in the UK and in Sri Lanka, but we do not know where the main stages of production is, or what clothes are produced where, nor where the raw materials come from or are processed.

Who will wear the clothes after the conference?

How long products are used, makes the biggest difference for both the climate and the environment. Clothes that you have not chosen yourself, but received from someone who does not know you, are typical garments that see little use. If they also have large logos and other things that make them time- and place-specific, the chance of reuse is small.

It is possible that Glasgow City Council and some of the volunteers think the clothes look nice, but we can safely say we aren’t enthusiastic. They would be better suited for the staff at a petrol station, but it is not the sale of fossil fuels that is on the agenda in Glasgow. However, since the “sustainable” material turned out to be from recycled plastic bottles, i.e. fossil origins, one could easily be fooled.

It is also possible that some of the thousands of volunteers have few clothes, and are happy for a gaudy top hat, black and blue shapeless trousers, a bulky outer jacket, a fleece jacket, polo shirt and a hoodie, but the chance that their closets are already full of similar and better garments is much greater.

In short: the clothes should not have been produced at all and of course not been described as “sustainable”.

A gift to the homeless after the summit

Avoiding waste is a stated goal for COP26, and this should be done through reuse, recycling and by taking design and material choices into account. The manufacturer states that there is a plan for what will happen to the clothes after the event.

The volunteers who do not want to keep their clothes can return them, and they will either be donated to the homeless or torn up and used for energy recovery.

The fact that these clothes can be handed in afterwards if the volunteers do not want to use them, does not make the matter any better. There is no shortage of easily used or unusable clothes for both reuse and energy recovery.

Are plastic clothes good for the climate?

In many of the tools available for comparing climate and environmental impacts of different textile materials, polyester, and especially recycled polyester, are highlighted as those with the least climate impact. At the same time, voices are being raised protesting against these truths, for example in this article in Impakter.

The basis for the comparisons are so-called life cycle analyses (LCA). These analyses aim to show a product’s environmental footprint from raw material extraction to disposal. For clothing, these LCAs are both few and incomplete, and much that can be achieved by choosing strategically among LCAs.

The independent analyst Veronica Bates-Kassatly describes how manufacturers have chosen LCAs that favor synthetic materials, and as a consequence are worst for nature. This is difficult to control, partly because privately owned HIGG Co., with its Material Science Index, the most widely used of such comparison tools, keeps its sources secret.

We would argue that no one knows if polyester is better for the climate, but there are some who stand to make a lot of money from claiming this, and that those who earn the most are the same ones behind this “truth”.

Recycled what then?

What is certain, however, is that polyester, and the other plastic materials used in clothing, are a significant source of spreading micro plastics to the sea, water and air. This also applies to recycled polyester.

None of the plastic-specific problems, the lack of degradability and the spread of micro plastics, are included in the calculations we mention above. PET bottles that are “recycled” into polyester fiber are in themselves a bad idea, according to the Changing Markets Foundation’s report on synthetic materials.

The properties embedded in the plastic used for bottles are not utilized in the clothes, and the bottle-to-bottle recycling system actually works better. The textile fibers deteriorate and therefore cannot be recycled, as one is capable to do with the bottles. This is of course why the manufacturers of these clothes will either give them away to the homeless or deliver them for energy recovery.

Local production as a solution

Scotland has a proud textile history, with Shetland wool, fantastic tweed and tartans – the checkered wool fabrics. Why not develop a uniform based on local Scottish traditions and reuse?

Yes, we understand that the volunteers must be recognizable, but to achieve this you only need one clearly visible garment, or bandola, or a fun hat.

Local production utilizes raw materials better, reduces transport, and not least the clothes stand up over time. The volunteers could have been a colorful flock with playful use of Scottish traditions. Using history as a resource for the future has many benefits, as do natural fibers.

Public procurement

The public sector is a major purchaser. Both the environmental and purchasing expertise of the very many who are responsible for buying textiles are in general a sad state. Therefore, we are currently working with a purchasing guide for public procurement of textiles in Norway.

If such initiatives are to contribute to a reduction in climate impact, they must not be hijacked by misguided ideas about «sustainable materials», but on the contrary, systems must be developed that ensure the procurement of good products that are utilized to the maximum through long use and good care.

To achieve this, good routines are needed for cooperation between buyer, user and supplier. The volunteer uniforms are thus a glaring example of how wrong things can go.

Climate vs. the environment

The climate crisis is serious. But so is the environmental crisis. “Saving” the climate by destroying the environment is not a good idea. Of course, this discussion is not just about clothes. The “emission-free” electric cars are, after all, only “emission-free” if you do not create emissions elsewhere and in other forms. The debate about wind turbines has many of the same ingredients.

Numbers and rankings are important tools in the climate and environmental debate. Therefore, we must be careful about who gets to decide what data is seen as robust and reliable. Things go wrong when the fox alone is allowed to guard the chickens, or the wolf the grandma, so to speak.

We must stop up and not let the same global giants who drown the world with bad plastic clothes also be allowed to drown us in the “truth” that their products are good for us and the planet. “Recycled” plastic clothing will never save the climate, and they are a disaster for the environment.

By the way: We never got to know what the knitted hat that tops it all is made of, but our tip is acrylic. Acrylic does not win any prizes for saving either the environment or for clothes that help to keep the wearer warm. It is possible that the conference had taken into account that global warming would make it superfluous for the hat to be knitted in their warm and wonderful Shetland wool.

Published by www.sciencenorway.no, click here to see the op-ed

Design process: research tools for CHANGE

During the first week of September 2021, CHANGE researchers collaborated with the Master Digital Design of the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences, in the context of its Design Processes Track. You can read about the course here (masterdigitaldesign.com).

Guided by Angella Mackey, a diverse group of 48 international students proposed 12 research tools that could be used in the fieldwork phase of CHANGE. The purpose of this design sprint was for the students to start their year rapidly producing design concepts for a real-world design challenge. The sprint guided them through collecting user data, building, and testing a prototype in 4 days. CHANGE’s researchers Ingun Klepp, Vilde Haugrønning, Ingrid Haugsrud and Irene Maldini participated in answering student queries, and acting as a jury for the most feasible and the most original solution proposed by students.

The “Most Feasible” nomination went to “Two peas on a Polaroid”.

The “Most Original” solution was awarded to “Momo”

Moreover, the jury awarded two extra mentions to:

BUDDY, for the use of automated voice communication with respondents

GARMOTIONS, for the focus on emotions as a drive for outfit choice

Durable or cheap? Parents’ acquisition of children’s clothing

Ingun Grimstad Klepp & Vilde Haugrønning

Abstract

Parents are faced with a plurality of choices and concerns when it comes to the acquisition of clothing for their children. This paper explores how parents employ longevity in consumption of children’s clothing from a practice-oriented perspective. The material consists of 6 focus groups with 40 parents who have at least one child under the age of 18. The aim of the groups was to establish children’s clothing needs: how many they need of each garment, how long parents expect the garment to last and what they understand as quality in clothing.

The analysis shows that parents mainly opt for an ‘one or the other’ strategy; they choose what they understand as quality, often affiliated with specific brands, and accept paying more for the garment, or they mainly choose based on low prices, and expect less of the garment. Quality is evaluated based on the garments’ durability and function. More specifically, the parents measure the service lifetime of a garment based on the number of seasons it lasts, either in terms of wear and tear or the child growing out of it. The expected lifetime is defined by uncertain sources, from their own and friends’ experiences, and their desire to justify their own choices as well as routinised practices.

Our discussion section employs these findings and contextualise them within product lifetime discourses. By doing this, we provide knowledge about how quality is understood, and how brand and price are used as indicators. We show how lack of information about products, especially on garments, leads to uninformed consumption practices that have consequences for how quality and longevity are prioritised and understood.

Click here to read the full article (www.ul.ie)

Consumer practices for extending the social lifetimes of sofas and clothing

Vilde Haugrønning, Kirsi Laitala & Ingun Grimstad Klepp

Abstract

Consumers play an essential role in efforts to extend product lifetimes (PL) and consumers’ practices can determine how long and active lives products get. Applying the framework of Social Practice Theory, this paper argues that in order to suggest changes to how consumers can contribute to longer product lifespans, research needs to focus on consumer practices. The data material consists of 4 focus group interviews with 38 participants about household goods and 29 semi-structured interviews about clothing.

Previous research shows that consumers’ expectations of product lifetime has decreased, while satisfaction with products is relatively high, which may indicate that product break down and/or replacement is more accepted. Therefore, we argue, it is necessary to focus on social lifespans. Our findings show that products such as clothing and sofas often go out of use or are disposed of before their physical lifespan ends, and it is more common to donate or sell old clothing and sofas than buying the products second hand. There are a number of routinised practices, such as disposal of functional items, that are considered normal, which leads to less reflexivity of seemingly unsustainable practices.

The material in products, or the expectation to the material, is highly influential for practices that can extend the social lifespan, such as maintenance. We conclude that by understanding practices as integrated and influenced by elements of the material, social and cultural, policy interventions may have a greater impact on the social lifespan of products.

Click here to read the full article (www.ul.ie)