The MIT Climate CoLab, in collaboration with Nike, Inc., has launched the Materials Matter competition to bring about innovations that could help transform the way we view, make, and use materials.
This could also include ways to affect consumer behavior and design choices, and the supply chain.
Inspired, in part by a recent report released by a team of researchers within MIT’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering (DMSE) and MIT’s Materials Systems Laboratory (MSL), the competition could help surmise the environmental impacts of four key apparel materials: cotton, leather, polyester, and rubber.
According to a MIT news story, the idea for this report came from conversations with Nike about how to stimulate innovation around materials. Unlike more traditional research, the researchers’ ultimate goals for this report are to inspire dialogue among stakeholders and encourage improvements.
As MSL principal research scientist Randolph Kirchain notes, much of MSL’s research aims to “drive better materials decisions.” To do that, decision makers need “to know where the acute challenges are and to have alternatives solutions from which to choose.”
The new report presents some of the major environmental impacts of the apparel industry worldwide. For example, a rough analysis from 2009 estimates that the global apparel industry consumes nearly 1 billion kilowatt hours of electricity or 130 million tons of coal, making the apparel industry a significant contributor to global greenhouse emissions.
In 2010, the global apparel industry produced more than 150 billion garments – enough to provide more than 20 new articles of clothing to every person on the planet.
In 2015, the global apparel industry is expected to produce more than 400 billion square meters of fabric per year, representing nearly enough material to cover the state of California (or nearly two times of UK) annually.
Needless to say, the greenhouse gas emissions for cotton, polyester, and leather – three of the four materials reviewed in the recent report – make up a significant portion of the total emissions from materials in the apparel industry.
Additionally, the new report notes that water is a key resource used in the textiles industry: In 2009, The New York Times reported that several dozen gallons (or more than 400 pounds) of water were required to process just one pound of textile.
Inputs from MIT; image credits of Nike