Slow progress in the Greenpeace detox campaign

Zero discharge – Latest on the detox campaign

In an unprecedented endeavor, big apparel and fashion brands initiated the zero discharge of hazardous chemicals (ZDHCs ) programme, inspired by the Greenpeace “detox campaign”. The programme may possibly set a new standard of environmental performance for the global apparel and footwear industry, if implemented seriously.

The detox campaign started in 2011 when Greenpeace investigated the environmental conditions at major Chinese textile players Youngor and Well Dyeing[i], big suppliers for the world´s most famous textile brands (see reports “Dirty laundry”[ii] and later “Dirty laundry reloaded”[iii]).

The pressure started to build up. Soon thereafter, at the end of 2011, the founding members C&A, H&N, adidas, Li-Ning and Puma published a joint roadmap to remove toxic chemicals from the textile supply chain by the year 2020[iv].

In 2012 additional global brands, namely G-Star, Levis[v] , Jack Wolfskin and Marks & Spencer[vi] have joined the project as well. Meanwhile, with so many of the world´s biggest brands already on board, the project is almost a must join for the big brands.


What happened in 2012 ?

Workshops have taken place to discuss benchmark studies, screening methods and chemicals inventory lists.  At the current stage of the projects the following 11 chemical substance classes are in the spotlight and already blacklisted in the campaign. These chemical substance classes are :

  • Phthalates (ortho- Phthalates)
  • Brominated and chlorinated flame retardants
  • Banned azo dyes
  • Organotin compounds
  • Chlorobenzenes
  • Chlorinated solvents
  • Chlorophenols
  • Short chained chlorinated paraffines
  • Heavy metals
  • Alkylphenol ethoxylates / alkyl phenols (APEO´s /APs)
  • Perflourinated chemicals (PFCs)


One project of particular coverage at this stage seems to be the water repellent chemicals on C8-perfluorinated basis, interestingly a segment that had been subject of special promotions of innovative textile finishing solution in recent years.

The ZDHC group has started two benchmark studies based on the blacklisted substance classes in Bangladesh and China to verify whether the 11 classes of hazardous chemicals under scrutiny are present in the wastewater discharge of the brands involved. This pilot project involves the collection of wastewater, sludge, and chemical samples from the selected factories in Bangladesh and China for testing, in addition to audits at the selected factories. Results are expected as a report by the end of 2012.

A website  was launched to communicate of the progress of the roadmap. However, the website is incredibly slow and contains only limited and rather general information at this point in time. 17 projects are listed in progress reports, but no specific information is given what specifically has been done and who participated in the projects.

However, despite all the efforts, during the course of the summer some critical voices  were heard.  Greenpeace is quoted as being disappointed with the slow speed and lack of specifically dead-lined initiatives of the project[vii].

Take it serious, not just as marketing initiative

We are not really totally surprised about the  slow progress. The project is largely run in closed circles by representatives of the member brands and invited “stakeholders” of their network. Often the core groups members lack specific  chemical and manufacturing knowledge. Considering the technical and chemical complexity of the challenging project targets, fundamental chemical know-how and understanding is essential  for a wise decision making – know-how which is frequently missing in the core group.  Traditionally the representatives of the brands, quality and material managers or purchasing managers,  have seeked and received  expert advice by special advisors from their long grown network of contacts in the chemical industry. It is a classic case of lobbyism – there is a lot of vested interests involved, and the eloquent opinion leaders in the industry are not always seriously interested in real breakthrough changes towards a greener and more sustainable future. It may be simply harmful to the business interests of their employers. Imagine a request for a greener solution based on a breakthrough innovation, the special advisors may say “it is not workable” (he really means to say “we don´t have it”), and the brands may buy it due to lack of better knowledge.

Moreover, both the brands and the chemical industry see huge marketing opportunities for themselves. Marketing people in commercial enterprises, retailers, brands and chemical companies, love to use the ecology theme for their marketing purposes. By far not everything is green what has a green button on the package. There are plenty of real case examples. It applies for the apparel in the shop as well as for the dyes and chemicals sold to the textile mills who manufacture for the brands. Green is considered in the first place as a marketing opportunity against competitors. It has been over the years a successful marketing model , and not always it was based on facts.

And in the next level of textile processing, it is the same thing. Many textile processing houses, especially in Asia, consider eco compliance as a cost factor which they would only implement when   explicitly requested and monitored by their customers, or customers´ customers, who are in many cases international retailers and brands, or when they can sell eco labeled products with a premium. But for the next order by the other customers they may do business as usual.

Retailers and brands play the eco compliance card as a marketing tool to differentiate opposite competitors. Many of them have their RSL (restricted substance list) and eco labels. But who can judge what substances are involved  and how seriously is it enforced ?

The point is, when the detox project would be considered as marketing tool only by the various protagonists, how sustainable can it be ?  The endeavor must be to cross this point of concern that eco compliance and zero discharge is seen simply as a marketing tool by the businesses involved.

The detox project must challenge the aura of lobbyists and their established networks inside the big brands. More transparency and the involvement of neutral expertise, to create a level playground with the the chemical industry would help. Whether his has already been discussed in the core group we do not know, due to the lack of transparency. Perhaps a devil´s advocate in the project steering committee setting specific tough targets and fostering critical thinking  is necessary to move ahead.

detox campaignThere are still many issues of toxic chemicals discharge across the textile supply chain, mainly in the area of dyes and chemicals manufacturing and textile processing. There are still too many processing steps releasing toxic chemicals into the environment. This concept may become a game changer in the textile industry if seriously and fully implemented. Therefore we fully endorse the concept of zero discharge of hazardous chemicals.

There are several issues of particular concern. In the next article of our coverage we will look more specifically at the occurrence of specific hazardous chemicals, their technical backgrounds and potential alternatives, and elaborate on further additional segments that will require attention of the detox initiative.

To tackle the need for more sustainable textile processing and products requires significant innovations.  Unfortunately, funding and resources have been drastically cut in that segment in many chemical and textile firms, often as an indirect result of the enormous cost pressure imposed on the textile supply chain by the big brands. We will elaborate about these implications in the next article as well.

Christian Schumacher

Dr. Christian Schumacher is the founder and managing director of StepChange Innovations GmbH, a technology development and consulting firm based in Germany. He has more than 20 years of experience in the chemical industry with global players such as Hoechst AG and DyStar Textilfarben GmbH as head of R&D, senior regional business manager Asia Pacific, head of e-commerce, head of marketing services, new product development manager and R&D chemist.

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. a.

    just started reading about this issue, freaked out because i just today put on a brand-new pair of hanes underwear (sorry for TMI! 🙂 so i checked their website and found they have a “chemical management” program that sounds pretty decent – hanes brands is publicly traded, so for them to be doing it means it has got to work with their bottom line. perhaps it could be a model for these other companies? i’m not in this industry so i don’t know if their restricted substances list (which is not actually included on the site) is extensive enough. but they say elsewhere that they basically match or exceed US regulations wherever they operate, which hopefully is a good thing, and a model for other companies.

  2. jimmy choo sale,cjeap jimmy choo

    This is really fascinating, You are an excessively professional blogger. I have joined your rss feed and look ahead to in search of more of your fantastic post. Also, I have shared your website in my social networks

Leave a Reply