EU textiles industry seeks sustainability

Multi-stakeholder initiative launched to address three pillars of sustainable development

Europe's textiles industry has given itself 15 months to develop a "binding dialogue" with stakeholders to demonstrate how the sector could become more sustainable. The initiative was launched at a seminar held in Brussels yesterday, and aims at agreement on a "multi-stakeholder alliance," including a voluntary commitment to "agreed sustainability principles along the lifecycle".

The textiles industry should target long-term sustainability, conference chairman Heinz-Werner Engel told delegates yesterday, because scheduled moves towards further trade liberalisation in the sector would increase low-cost competition from developing countries.

With over 2m small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) operating in Europe's textile industry, the sector needed to join forces and make sustainable practices its competitive edge, said Mr Engel, an environmental consultant. "It's a painful exercise but...it's the only way to survive in the new economy."

Coordinated by European Partners for the Environment, the International Institute for Environment and Development and a Belgian association of environmental consultants, the initiative will focus on the workwear sector. This was fully opened to competition in 1998, so results could be extrapolated to other textile sectors, the organisers say.

European Commission sources supported claims by the scheme's backers to be breaking new ground. This was one of the first EU-level initiatives by an industry sector to try to align their activities to all the three social, economic and environmental pillars of sustainable development, an official told ENDS Daily.

The initiative will also be watched closely because it could hold lessons for raising environmental standards in other industries with large numbers of SMEs, which are emerging as a key future target of European environmental policy makers

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