Chapter 6.2 / AT Industry and Sustainability

AT Industry and Sustainability

The purpose of this section is to describe some of the ways the AT industry is responding to sustainability challenges. For those wanting to contribute to the transition toward sustainability, the AT industry provides diverse opportunities.


Professional Development for Educators  

AT Industry and Sustainability

Changes the AT Industry is making to reduce environmental impacts

One of the first steps that many manufacturers and retailers in the AT industry have taken is to learn more about the sources of the materials used in their products and then share what they have learned with consumers, an effort towards transparency (Nimon & Beghin, 1999). Conducting a life-cycle analysis of their products revealed that there were certain phases where products and processes had significant environmental impacts (Smith & Barker, 1995). The initial focus was often on the fibers used for products and companies like Patagonia led the transparency movement by switching to organic cotton and then sharing with their customers the rationale behind the change (Chouinard & Brown, 1997).  Soon, companies that were already focusing on social responsibility efforts found that being transparent about the sources of materials and the places where their products where manufactured could create a competitive advantage that outweighed the benefits of keeping their sources secret (Porter & Kramer, 2006).

At the same time, researchers were working to develop fiber from materials, such as PLA (Polylactic Acid), that could reduce the environmental impact of fiber production while keeping the properties, such as easy care, that consumers had come to value (Vink et al., 2003).

When lifecycle analyses showed that the consumer use phase of apparel products have the most significant impact on carbon emissions through energy use (Allwood et al., 2015), the AT industry also began working on changing care labels to encourage energy reduction. Marks & Spencer, a major UK retailer, incorporated climate change as one of the major pillars in their pivot towards sustainability and required their suppliers to produce garments that could be labeled as “cold water wash” as well as opening stores that made major improvements in energy use (Bell et al., 2009).

Besides the concern about energy use and its relationship to climate change through carbon emissions, the AT industry depends on water for almost every phase of production, from water for crops to water for laundry (Morrison et al., 2009). Brands like Levi’s have developed innovations in textile processing that reduce water consumption and created educational campaigns to help their customers reduce water use at home (  DyeCoo, a process of waterless dyeing with reclaimed CO2 uses a closed loop system that produces no waste water and is energy efficient is being used to dye textiles (

Groups such as the Sustainable Apparel Coalition have formed to share tools created by leaders in the AT industry to improve the ability of designers, producers and retailers to reduce the impact of their products on climate change (

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AT Industry and Sustainability

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AT Industry and Sustainability