Comment les filatures italiennes conjuguent progrès environnemental et économies

Clean by design

Italian mills make environmental progress with economic savings

Starting with the sole goal of improving energy and water efficiency, the Kering Clean by Design programme has also resulted in greater economic savings for luxury textile suppliers over a fairly short time span. The mills and the Group hope that this and other benefits, like transparency and closer collaboration across the luxury supply chain, will encourage others to join the programme. K magazine reports.

Although Novara is a thriving industrial town in northern Italy, it is still dominated by the Baroque basilica of San Gaudenzio whose breath-taking cupola, about the height of the great pyramids of Giza, commands the surrounding countryside. Far beneath the gaze of The Saviour whose statue stands on top, is a very modern restaurant. Modern in its sense of cuisine, mainly using fresh fish and greens, but also because it is surrounded by its own rich garden.

Its slogan, 'The place to be' makes it an appropriate setting to mark the end of the first phase of the Clean by Design project. The programme, initially developed by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), America's largest environmental advocacy organisation and adapted thereafter to fit Kering’s luxury activities, has been running at 24 of the important textile suppliers of the Group’s brands for the past two years, with a view to improving resource efficiency and reducing Kering’s environmental impact. Measures typically have low upfront cost and short payback time.

Following a pilot scheme, the programme was fully launched in 2014 across 24 of the Group's textile suppliers, mostly located in the Novara region and around nearby Lake Como. Specialising in dyeing, printing, weaving or yarn spinning, the mills selected represent a good sample of both Kering's supply chain and the Italian luxury textile sector.

Been through the mill

Each mill went through a resource efficiency audit, from which a tailor-made action plan was drawn up. This had a timeline of measures to be completed by the end of 2017. By the end of last year, however, so many significant improvements had been made that Kering decided to publish the results. So far, the participants have greatly reduced their electricity and gas use. Some reductions in water use and opportunities to switch to renewable energy have also been accomplished, in addition to the consequential financial savings.

Being more ecological was not necessarily a new thing to most suppliers but it seems the programme galvanised many and facilitated bringing forward their actions. The owner of one dyeing and weaving mill (of acetate, viscose and silk) for example, who had already installed solar panels, said, “We didn't start from scratch but it meant that somebody was focused on that. Kering helped us to realise the project in a respectful way, to bring a different perspective – and we worked together.” They decided to change some dyeing machinery, which has resulted in “less water use, less wastage of colorants, and less air pollution”.

Why did he do it? “The Italian fabric should be the best possible and that includes being the most sustainable.” There's also an element of competitive advantage so that, although he feels other buyers are at the moment less taken by sustainability credentials, “We will be one step ahead.” 

Simple by design

The biggest advantage of Clean by Design, according to Claire Bergkamp, head of sustainability and ethical trade at Stella McCartney, is that, “It's simple: easy to explain and very effective. Mills can apply energy and water savings to money savings; it's good for business and the environment.”

The Kering Clean by Design programme has thus far seen €2.2 million ($2.3 million) of investment, resulting in total annual savings of €0.94 million ($0.99 million), which translates into an average return on investment (RoI) of 2.5 years. The participating mills also made other significant investments in machinery over the course of the project, primarily pushed by the need to expand production and to substitute old equipment. This additional capital expenditure of €6.7 million ($7 million) has raised the total achieved savings up to €1.1 million ($1.16 million).

And greenhouse gas emissions at each mill have been reduced by an average of 11.5%, with a projected reduction of up to 19% by the end of this year.

Bergkamp points out a kind of league table of challenge versus reward. Thus insulating pipes is “an easy win”, whereas replacing existing lighting with LED lamps is more expensive. Sub metering (i.e. measuring one or two levels below the normal, general level) can be relatively costly but often results in great savings when it helps to identify leaks, a perennial problem.

Solar panels are expensive to install, pointed out the owner of a 60-employee yarn mill, with a typical four year RoI. This compares with only 2.5 years for his LED investment, the most common action among the participants. External thermal insulation for the whole building is the dearest outlay of all, with about ten years RoI, but he can now boast, “Zero emissions – certified – in our whole plant!”

LED by example

For a silk weaving mill employing 50 people, the owner's son said their LED investment amounted to about €100,000 ($106,000) and had a three-year RoI. A new heating system, on the other hand, where the fuel oil was replaced by biomass, cost approximately €250,000 ($265,000). But that, he was keen to put into perspective, “was the price of a loom,” and biomass is half the cost of fuel oil, although he was apprehensive the government wanted to tax it higher.

For his firm, funding wasn't a problem, his biggest challenge was implementation: finding a manager to devout three to four hours a week, to follow the project. On the other hand, decision-making was straightforward: it came from his father and so was “a fairly quick process.”

The best aspect about the Kering Clean by Design programme for him was the opportunity to join a large project, “We are a small company and have no time.” Although he was glad to be taking the ecologically correct action, “saving money was the most important factor, and it's an opportunity to improve the whole system.”

For Rossella Ravagli, head of corporate social responsibility at Gucci, the programme's added value is that, “we have been able to better engage with our suppliers on this focus, to enforce their commitment to sustainability. We have seen great collaboration in following Gucci on this project  and further cascade it within their own activities. The programme has resulted in reducing the environmental footprint with good economic savings.”

One focus over the course of 2017 will be to implement other energy efficiency actions such as self-production, combined heat & power plants and metering. This last serves to provide a better handle on where energy goes and where it is used. In sharing the results, the Group hopes other suppliers and other sectors will be inspired to join the programme, to build a more environmentally friendly, resource efficient and economically competitive future for the Italian textile industry.

In the meantime, Kering is the first company to have undertaken Clean by Design on its own, and the first enterprise to adopt the programme in Italy, according to NRDC. As another mill owner concluded: “We are the first but everybody should be like this.”