Interview

Power of a single list

Issue 80 - March | April 2019

Frank Michel, head of the Zero Discharged Hazardous Chemical ZDHC Initiative, is working to lead the textile and leather industry on an innovative green path.

Frank Michel, ZDHC
Frank Michel, ZDHC
What are the challenges in reducing toxic substances in the manufacturing process?

Michel: The biggest challenge lies in the complexity of the textile industry and in the tradition that it always goes to those countries where wages and legal requirements are lowest. The crux of the matter is that if states introduce stricter regulations, industry will leave the country, and that does not necessarily make sense. Therefore, a global list of regulated manufacturing chemicals, such as ours, is a pretty powerful tool when it is accepted by the trade, brand owners, as well as the industry.

Which product groups or markets show the highest loads?

Michel: The focus of environmental organizations is the poly- and perfluorinated hydrocarbons PFC with their water and dirt repellent functionalities. Greenpeace also operates campaigns in the automotive sector. But it's always a question of quantity. Salt also changes water. You should not generalize and divide the chemicals into better and worse ones.

Is it possible to say how high the proportion of toxic textiles is?

Michel: This is already regulated by the legislators of the target markets. We focus on the chemicals used in the manufacturing process. We recommend to use ZDHC MRSL compliant formulations. Although these can be a bit more expensive, this usually pays off again in terms of process efficiency and customer acceptance. It is also often a matter of dosage. Due to the lack of experience, many involved in the manufacturing process operate according to the motto "a lot helps a lot". Therefore, we recommend process consultancy offered by consultants and chemical manufacturers. The latter also have an interest in not being put in the bad light. Because it is often communicated, the textile industry poisoned the environment. That's not quite true. And you can also contribute to the solution by selectively buying products and only claiming the properties you need.

How can the customer orientate himself?

Michel: You can tell him relatively little about chemicals. But you should communicate the value of a product to it. This is not a question of price, even a cheap T-shirt can be very valuable. I am thinking of Lenzing's high-quality fibers, which are processed using the best available technologies. But you also have to be realistic: many customers are not interested.

What role did Greenpeace play in positioning the topic?

Michel: The textile campaign is probably one of the most successful in the history of Greenpeace. Whereby the success lies in the indicated approach of controlling the chemicals at the place of production, not the product.

How is the industry reacting to the offer of ZDHC so far?

Michel: We had very ambitious goals from the beginning, but it took a long time to develop the appropriate implementation tools. Since 2017 they are there - and exponential demand is still understated. We have incredible growth, but realize we can not start anywhere at the same time.

Who are your most important allies?

Michel: We are a multi-stakeholder organization and strive to bring the market participants together to develop a solution. Therefore, the chemical manufacturers are as important to us as the dealers and branded companies. We also cooperate with other organizations. Finally, trust is needed that the solution we offer brings the results we all want.

Are you also encountering resistance?

Michel: There are always barriers when it comes to money, when it costs more, when it is more effort. But it's like being in a gearbox: in ten years' time you will not be able to imagine doing it any other way.

Thank you for the interview.
Photo: ZDHC

To the main story

corporAID Magazine 80: Sustainable Production

Clothes turn green

Every garment has its own chemistry, regardless of whether the base fiber is natural or synthetic. Many initiatives are committed to banishing harmful substances from clothing, and some address the root of the problem.