SUB researchers lead new sustainable textiles consortium
Researchers from the Sustainability in Business (SUB) research group are leading one of Aalto’s three consortia funded in the latest round of grants from the Academy of Finland’s Strategic Research Council. The project, Sustainable textile systems: Co-creating resource-wise business for Finland in global textile networks (Finix), is led by SUB's Professor Minna Halme and brings together a team of researchers from Aalto Schools of Business, Arts and Chemical Engineering; SYKE; VTT; Lappenranta University of Technology; and Lahti and Turku Universities of Applied Science to study the environmental and social burdens of the current global textile systems as well as the opportunities for novel solutions that make wiser use of natural resources. Assistant Professor Samuli Patala, also from the SUB group, will be leading Finix's work on governance innovation for systemic change. Partners from Heureka and Rhea Solutions will work with the researchers to communicate the findings to the public.
The problems with the current textile industry are dire. It relies on low-quality products that speed from on-trend to obsolete in ever-contracting time spans, leaving a trail of industrial CO2 emissions (10% of the global total), ocean-bound microplastics (35% of the global total) and pesticides (16% of the global total) in their wake.1 It also takes immense amounts of water and land, causing waste, pollution, and land from food production. Relying on sourcing from countries with low labour costs, this model also comes with frequent human rights violations and wages too low to live on.
Finix will investigate, catalyse and co-create a resource-wise textile paradigm characterized by the use of fibres from recycled textiles, agriwaste and wood; business models for long textile lifespans facilitated by design for multiple lifetimes and supportive services (e.g. for sharing, repairing, reverse logistics); and digital and other technologies (for traceability, recognition, sorting, consumer information) as well as governance innovations (e.g. proactive regulation and ecosystem governance models), all of which in combination enable a circular textile economy.
Additionally, Finix will investigate sustainable technologies, materials and business models and at the same time, facilitate Finnish firms in collectively developing breakthrough innovations that combine them. This will not only link Finnish companies with the international textile industry’s value chains but also help push the global textile industry toward sustainability. Throughout the course of the Finix project, we will study the solutions’ impacts on environmental, social and economic development to minimize the risk of unintended consequences. We will also identify potential trade-offs, which will help decision-makers understand possible unintended consequences and prioritize which sustainability impacts to optimize.
Finix aims to make scientific breakthroughs in several core areas:
- Producing textile fibers from recycled cellulose-based material through the Ioncell process, in the detection and removal of impurities from the material and providing a proof-of-concept of industrially viable textile-to-textile upcycling.
- Producing a state-of-art, feasible information system for storing and tracing the material information of textiles throughout their lifecycle.
- Formulating new design strategies for different lifetimes of textiles, powered by new materials and digital innovations.
- Reaching new breakthroughs in the area of managing circular economy, including a better understanding of service-intensive and systemic business models and business models under decreasing consumption as well as novel, polycentrically governed business ecosystems.
- Scrutinizing the sustainability impacts of the current and future textiles system, including the impacts of the studied material and digital innovations, and provides novel scientific knowledge on how proactive policies can support a transition to circular textiles system, providing scientific contributions to the fields of sustainability science and innovation policy, respectively.
Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, Finix's ultimate goal is for the Finnish textile industry to be reborn through the nascent opportunities for emerging sustainable textile solutions in global value chains, enabling a much-needed paradigm shift in how we make, use and dispose of textiles.
 Ellen MacArthur Foundation. (2017). A new textiles economy: Redesigning fashion’s future.