The Instituto de Estudios para la Sustentabilidad Corporativa in Buenos Aires, Argentina has chosen to take both a broad approach to sustainability in their work as well as to focus on a few issues that they believe are of key importance. One of their core topics is making the textile and fashion industries more sustainable, and their Sustainable Textile Center is dedicated to that cause, both nationally and internationally. I recently had the chance to speak with Miguel Angel Gardetti and Ana Laura Torres, coordinators of the Center, about their work.
1. Describe the work of the Centro Textil Sustentable
The Centro Textil Sustentable (CTS) (Sustainable Textile Center – STC) was created with the purpose of providing the textile and fashion sectors with a broader outlook in order to ensure that social and environmental issues are fully integrated into the decision-making process by correctly assessing the strategic sustainability challenges. This Center promotes a holistic, multidimensional, and more sustainable vision of the textile sector, which includes fashion, through knowledge generation and transfer, education and capacity building, and strategic partnerships.
2. Why did the Institute decide to focus on sustainable textiles?
No doubt the textile industry (including production of clothing, fabrics, threads, fiber, and related products) is significant to our economy. However, within the context of corporate sustainability, this industry often operates to the detriment of environmental and social factors. The textile industry uses large quantities of water and energy (two of the most pressing issues worldwide), in addition to creating waste, effluents, and pollution. Both textile product manufacture and consumption are significant sources of environmental damage. As to social aspects, non-qualified jobs have been lost in regions that mostly rely on these industries. Another serious and still unresolved problem is the increasing flexibility that textile industry companies need. Faced with fierce international competition, these companies find it more and more difficult to ensure job security. Plus, there exists clandestine work proliferating both in developing and developed countries. Child labour also continues to be a fact in this sector, despite efforts by a growing number of agencies and organisations. Precisely for these reasons, the Institute decided to focus on sustainable textiles.
3. What are some examples of the projects that have been undertaken?
The Center has been very active, both nationally and internationally, in this area. The STC has developed, jointly with the United Nations Global Compact Argentinean Network, the first edition of a Training Programme of Agents for Change in the Fashion and Textile Sector (August-October 2013). This programme is based on the Code of Conduct and Manual for the Textile and Fashion Industry, which is the first sectorial initiative of the United Nations Global Compact, jointly developed with the Nordic Initiative Clean and Ethical (NICE). From here, we expect to have a positive impact through agents of change in the media, the private sector, the academia, government agencies, etc.
We also developed and delivered a workshop called “Textiles, Fashion and Sustainability,” which is addressed to teachers of the Degree in Apparel and Textile Design of the Pacífico University (Santiago, Chile) in August 2013. We have participated in a range of conferences and workshops on the topic at Rio+20, at Copenhagen Business School and also at the recent Sustainable Apparel Coaliton Educational Summit, which is building a framework for measuring and evaluating the social and environmental sustainability of apparel and footwear products called Higgs. The STC was also in charge of the translation into Spanish of the Code of Conduct and Manual for the Textile and Fashion Industry. We are also part of Socio-Log, a group of academics in the field of sustainable fashion belonging to universities from 33 different nationalities with the purpose of analysing the best way to integrate issues of sustainability across undergraduate and graduate curricula and generate suitable materials for use in class.
4. What have been some of the challenges? Successes?
There are great challenges in this field, including but not limited to, breaking with the status quo of the informal work, child labour, and illegal immigration, which is VERY rooted. Since we started relatively recently, successes are mainly at the academic level through teacher training in Argentina and other Latin American countries on issues of sustainable fashion and textiles.
5. What advice would you have for other schools thinking of putting something similar into place, and what is next for the Center?
Something very important is that academic learning and research should become vital and current for future leaders from the textile and fashion business, the government, and civil society. This means taking a broader picture to ensure that social and environmental issues are completely integrated into the decision-making processes in these sectors. We understand that academic learning and research is incomplete if it does not appraise the strategic challenge raised by sustainability. Because academic learning and research is the field of universities and business schools, these institutions are called on to play an important role in the transformation of the current textile and fashion system into a sustainable one.
Moving forward, the Center will continue with the programme editions, both at the local level (Argentina) and the regional level (Latin America), with the participation of other UN Global Compact Local Networks in Latin America. Perhaps we should create a PRME working group on textiles, fashion, and sustainability?
For more information on Sustainable Textiles:
- September 2012 special issue on “Textiles, Fashion and Sustainability” in the context of the Journal of Corporate Citizenship (UK) – one of the most prestigious in academia in the field of corporate citizenship – of which we were guest editors.
- The book “Sustainability in Fashion and Textiles: Values, Design, Production and Consumption” published by Greenleaf Publisher (UK), March 2013