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Vinnova is investing in sustainable conversion of the textile system

Published: 13 May 2022

The textile and clothing industry is today a resource-intensive industry where there is a lot of room to strengthen the environmental and health perspectives. To achieve the goals in Agenda 2030, industry and trade need to change, which requires an overall approach where the entire value chain is highlighted and developed with sustainability and circularity in focus. Now Vinnova is gathering strength through a new effort for a sustainable textile system.

This web page has been machine translated. If there are any uncertainties, please refer to the Swedish text.

The textile and fashion industry has great potential to contribute to meeting the sustainability goals, but it is a long way to go. Despite increased environmental awareness, textile consumption has increased by 30 percent per person in Sweden over the past 20 years. Enligt Naturvårdsverkets figures from 2019, we bought in Sweden an average of 13.7 kilos of textiles per person, while we threw 7.5 kilos in the garbage.

Alexander Alvsilver is working on a system change at Vinnova and is one of those behind the new textile investment. He is clear with the goal.

- The textile system is in need of adjustment. That's the starting point. The way we produce textiles, design products, use and recycle must change. There is a will to change and many well-isolated initiatives are being made, but overall it is too slow and too little is happening.

Cecilia Tall, Secretary General of TEKO, Sveriges Textil- & Modeföretag, agrees that speed needs to increase, but also sees how Sweden has great potential to be at the forefront of the transition.

- The Swedish textile and fashion industry is at the forefront of the development of new innovative products and solutions to adapt to new eligibility requirements for sustainability. We have largely fossil-free energy and have for decades replaced harmful chemicals and invested in managing water and resources. We are up and running, but the pace must increase.

Development of system demonstrator

Vinnova's new textile investment is about letting possible solutions for switching to a sustainable textile system be tested in real life. The focus is on achieving changes in the long term at the system level that can show the way for how the system, ie the entire textile industry, can choose the right way forward.

- It is not enough to have individual initiatives. We need change in several places in industry, in sales and in society. It is not enough just with, for example, recycling. We must zoom out and have the whole system as a perspective, says Alexander Alvsilver.

The method is to develop a system demonstrator that shows how strategically selected solutions together can change a system in one direction. A system demonstrator points not only to the need for technological innovation, but also to behaviors, culture, regulations, interfaces and markets and how they need to be developed in order for the desired change to become a reality.

The system demonstrator is not theoretical. It is carried out manually in a real context. Relevant actors in the system come together to identify opportunities, obstacles and choices. It is the interplay between the solutions and reality that is the key and the goal.

Cecilia Tall from TEKO believes that the value of the investment has more dimensions.

- In the larger arena, a successful example of a sustainable system means that the transformation towards a more sustainable textile system in an international perspective can go faster. But it also means that Swedish companies are involved in leading the transition, which creates new sustainable jobs in Sweden, and export opportunities for Swedish companies.

Identify challenges

What obstacles then stand in the way of a more sustainable direction?

Birgitta Losman is a sustainability strategist at The university college in Borås and the Government's investigator for textile producer responsibility.

- The biggest obstacle to a more sustainable textile system is the increased consumption of new fiber. At the company level, profitability issues both between companies and between companies and consumers are a challenge. Design, choice of materials and quality are important for increased sustainability, but can be difficult for companies to achieve profitability in the short term. At the individual level, our consumption culture is an obstacle, as are the fact that sustainable products and services often cost more in the short term, which hampers more sustainable consumption.

According to Birgitta Losman, there are already a number of good initiatives in the industry, but they are unfortunately often on the margins. We are far from circulating textile material in a resource-efficient way today.

- A change of norm is required both in industry and from consumers. We often hear that there is a big gap between what companies would like to do in terms of sustainability and what is actually done and that there is a need for concrete cooperation and support.

Vinnova's work ahead

Vinnova's role is to mobilize various stakeholders both within and outside the textile industry. All interested actors welcome to join. At the same time, important investments, for example in technology or policy development, are mapped within the system.

The next step in the work is to finance a number of preparatory projects to be able to lay the foundation for future system demonstrators. This includes finding challenges and identifying a number of innovations that are ready to be tested in real life. Vinnova hopes to be able to achieve this during the autumn, and then continue to solve the puzzle of how the entire system can be changed.

- An effort of this kind is basically exploratory. There is no "one size fits all" when the intention is to change an entire system with an infinite number of components and moving parts, says Alexander Alvsilver.

Birgitta Losman has an important contribution to the future:

- We need sharp cases that show that major changes are possible, but also broad project with important minor changes that can have a great effect when they are scaled up. Here, Vinnova can make a big difference by scaling up existing investments in Sweden.

Workshop 21 June

Are you interested in participating in the work? In that case, you are welcome to a workshop in Gothenburg where we co-create around Vinnova's effort on system demonstrators for a sustainable textile system.
Read more here.

If you are interested in knowing more about system demonstration, you can read more here.

Last updated 13 May 2022

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