Written by Nicole Kenney and Manasseh Franklin
Textiles are essential in everyday life across the globe. Clothing in particular is not only used for warmth, protection and coverage, but also to assert a sense of individuality. However, the global textile industry is incredibly resource intensive, relying on large amounts of energy and non-renewable resources to produce garments that have limited life and often end up in landfills after use. This amounts to a process that uses 98 million tons of oil, fertilizers, and chemicals, as well as 93 billion cubic meters of water, and relies on energy that produces 1.2 billion tons of CO2 equivalent emissions annually . Not to mention, the impact of pollution from toxic dyes and treatments, and negative health impacts on workers.
There has been a widespread shift in the textile industry to source or develop alternative, lower impact materials for products . The growing adoption of standards and certifications such as Bluesign, Higg Index and Oeko-Tex 100 have provided useful baselines to improve efficiencies, transparency, working conditions and environmental impacts, but there is much work to be done in reducing waste and environmental impacts within the industry. Additionally, an often overlooked element of this process is the opportunity to extend textile sustainability efforts through the consumer use phase.
There is no more prescient time than the present to reduce energy, use and waste, not only in textiles but in all of our lifestyles. According to the most recent IPCC report, across the globe, we are on track to reach a 1.5 degree temperature increase above pre-industrial levels. This amount of warming would have disastrous effects on ecosystems, food production systems, and human health and well-being. If we want to avoid this temperature increase, the global population must reduce our CO2-emitting global energy use significantly.
In order to modernize our approach to sustainability and address these critical energy concerns, LifeLabs Design is taking a holistic approach to textile manufacturing, production, distribution, consumer use and end of life. We are designing and producing products that minimize energy and resource use throughout the manufacturing process and also have the effect of reducing energy use on the part of the consumer. In order to make this journey authentic, we value and commit to transparency and the pursuit of truth in the claims we and other brands make about our sustainability efforts.The technologies we utilize have been developed through rigorous scientific research, driven by the work of Stanford University Material Science professor and Chairman of the Precourt Institute for Energy, Dr. Yi Cui. While working under a grant from the Department of energy ARPA-E to study indoor energy usage reductions, Dr. Cui and his team realized that there are great energy savings in turning our thermostats up in summer and down in winter. This then led the team to ask: Can we make textiles that encourage a shift in human behavior that will
reduce a person's energy use, therefore reducing their carbon output and overall impact on their environment?
That research has resulted in LifeLabs Design’s WarmLife and CoolLife textiles. These warming and cooling textiles are not only produced as sustainably as possible but also allow the consumer to shift their daily behavior to reduce their personal energy usage and carbon footprint. These products showcase LifeLabs’ commitment to refining textile production by incorporating sustainability at every step of the process, and focusing on the use phase of our products in an innovative way for our industry.
The path to truly sustainable textile production is a journey on which we are constantly seeking ways to improve. The most important thing is that we are always moving in a direction that seeks to better the planet. This white paper details LifeLabs Design’s innovative approach to New Sustainability, including the steps we are currently taking to build our brand with the smallest environmental footprint possible, along with our goals for the future.
NEW SUSTAINABILITY IS ACCESSIBILITY
No matter where in the world we live, textiles––particularly clothing–– are part of our lives. Where we buy our clothes is a personal choice; as consumers, we have the responsibility to make choices that reflect personal values. As a brand, we have a responsibility to maintain transparency that allows the consumer to make the most informed choices possible.
LifeLabs’ product line is focused on modern, timeless design, which allows for versatility and a “less is more” approach to wardrobes and our lives. It also offers a personalized approach to energy savings and sustainability throughout our products. In order to encourage more conscious consumerism, we make all of our product information transparent, including accurate and up-to-date data about our sustainability efforts, as well as how we plan to improve.
Included in every LifeLabs Design product description is a breakdown of materials, including where the product ranks on the Higg Materials Sustainability Index (MSI). This gives the consumer a comprehensive view of the sustainability profile of each product. We also provide data-backed insights into the consumer’s personal energy reduction potential when using each individual product.
In taking this approach, we have lowered the barriers to entry. Not only can consumers choose clothing that is sustainably manufactured and distributed, but they can also know exactly how the choices they make help them take action to decrease their personal energy consumption and therefore their total carbon footprint. This commitment to transparency suggests a degree of accountability more companies in the textile industry can adopt, and that consumers in turn can demand.
REDUCING ENERGY USE THROUGH TEXTILES
We are in the midst of a global climate crisis. Greenhouse gas emissions have caused warming and increasingly erratic weather events around the world. Global indoor heating and cooling systems make up approximately 12% of worldwide energy use. Climate change’s impact on extreme weather events is expected to put further strain on heating and cooling energy systems. As technologies, particularly cooling, become cheaper and more widespread, this is anticipated to increase. It is forecast that the number of air conditioning units on the earth will triple by 2050, which could cause emissions from cooling to nearly double from 1.135 million tons in 2016 to 2.070 million tons in 2050.
Adding to this, humans spend more time than ever indoors. In the US, this amounts to an average of 90% of time spent commuting, working, sleeping and relaxing.
The research behind LifeLabs Design suggests a simple and accessible way for all people to reduce their energy footprint: adjust the thermostat. A setting change of +2 degrees C in the summer and -2 degrees C in the winter offers the potential to reduce our total carbon emissions by 320lbs of CO2 per person annually. This equates to a potential 12% decrease in energy consumption per year. It allows for a shift in daily behavior that could have tremendous impacts on national and global dependency on energy consumption.
LifeLabs heating and cooling textiles are designed to increase user comfort in hot or cool conditions, allowing people to consume less energy by keeping the thermostat lower in winter and higher in summer.
WarmLife and CoolLife
Human bodies naturally radiate heat. In warm temperatures, we need fabrics that allow our body heat to escape, so we stay cool. In cold temperatures, we need fabrics that harness our body heat, and help it to work for us. With those principles in mind, we have developed WarmLife and CoolLife fabrics to work with the body’s infrared heat.
Our WarmLife technologies utilize infrared body heat in the opposite way. Rather than allowing heat to escape, we have developed a lightweight, breathable metallic nano-coating that harnesses radiant body heat and reflects it back to the skin. This radiative technology utilizes less than a paper clip’s worth of aluminum to keep consumers 10% warmer than conventional fabrics with one-third less of the material weight.
Our CoolLife technologies rely on nanoporous Polyethylene (PE), a lightweight, low-impact fiber with high infrared transparency. This means that fabric made with PE allows the body to
cool via the release of thermal radiation. Studies have shown that Polyethylene is a highly infrared-transparent material, which means that it allows body heat to pass through it, resulting in a cooling effect of up to 2 degrees celsius.
To quantify these warming and cooling performances, we use two measurements: Clo and Qmax. For both our WarmLife and CoolLife products, we measure the Clo rating, which is an indication of how a material sustains temperature. Clo rating is also directly correlated to the more commonly known “temperature rating”. A higher Clo rating means the fabric traps more heat and therefore keeps your body warmer. A lower Clo rating means the fabric allows more heat to pass through and therefore provides continuous cooling.
In CoolLife products, we additionally measure the Qmax rating, which indicates the instantaneous thermal touch upon contact. A higher Qmax means the fabric provides a cooler touch and allows heat to leave your body more quickly.
By measuring the performance aspects of our materials, we are able to develop and employ fabric technologies that incorporate thermal efficiency into the wearer's everyday life.
NEW SUSTAINABILITY IN MATERIALS
Our response to the textile industry’s resource waste and the need to reduce global energy use is to pursue the most sustainable means to production possible. To support our goal of reducing energy across all aspects of LifeLabs Design products, and to achieve the highest level of sustainability and transparency within existing regulatory frameworks, we will continue to pursue the following certifications and sustainability standards throughout the LifeLabs sourcing, production and distribution process.
Polyethylene as a Low Impact Fiber
Polyethylene, the primary component of our CoolLife line, is a synthetic material with a promising sustainability profile. It can be processed at a lower temperature during the extrusion and finishing stages than other fabrics and can be solution dyed, which is a less water-intensive process than other dyeing methods. Polyethylene’s infrared transparency makes it highly efficient at thermoregulation. It dries quickly and is stain resistant, requiring less energy in laundering and wear. It also has a potential for high recyclability, allowing for better end of life solutions and a lower overall environmental footprint.
Polyethylene is a relatively common material in American lives. It is found in grocery store plastic bags and as single-use plastic packaging in many household consumer packaged goods including water bottles and detergent, meaning there is no shortage of available feedstock.
As an organization, we are committed to incorporating recycled Polyethylene into our products. We have identified polyethylene within our own manufacturing waste stream that can potentially be utilized as fiber feedstock. Our team of scientists continues to drive materials innovation through textile engineering projects that will incorporate these current waste streams (internally and externally) as feedstock into new-to-you products, thus building circularity into our business structure and closing the loop on this low-impact polymer.
Bluesign Certified Fabric Mills and Trims Suppliers
From fabric to trim, our materials are sourced with Bluesign certified mills, whose standards focus on transparent textile production with the lowest possible environmental burden. The organization offers chemical inventory evaluation, on-site assessments of risk and emissions, environmental performance, benchmarking resources, and more, in addition to chemical management guidance. Utilizing Bluesign certified mills ensures we have access to transparency in environmental impact throughout the manufacturing process.
Formed in 1977 in response to increasing pollution and irresponsible practices inside the garment industry, Bluesign created the world’s most comprehensive list of restricted chemical substances, and identified over 20,000 chemical products as hazardous to environmental or human health. Blusign advises that smarter chemistry and processes can achieve significant global energy savings, like -50% water consumption, -30% power use, and -15% chemical pollution in bodies of water—contributing to the UN’s SDG #12: Ensure Sustainable Consumption and Production Patterns.
PFC-Free Water Repellency
We are committed to using only PFC-free durable water-repellent finishes on our performance fabrics. Perfluorinated (PFC) chemicals are endocrine disruptors commonly known as “forever chemicals” because of their long-chain polymer structure and difficulty to break down naturally in the environment. PFCs are commonly used in outdoor apparel as well as household items like non-stick cookware and carpets.
By choosing PFC-free DWR treatments, we ensure that our garments offer the highest level of water-repellency protection from the outdoor elements without causing harm to the consumer or the environment.
Utilizing the Higg Index
We utilize the Higg Index, a suite of tools developed by the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, that enables us to accurately measure the impact of our materials and products. Built on a common standard and compiled using global industry data, the Higg Index is a universal framework that serves to inform our sustainability strategies and enable LifeLabs to drive change within the textiles and apparel industry.
For our inaugural Fall 2021 collection, we measured our materials impact using Higg’s Materials Sustainability Index (MSI), which calculate our fabric’s environmental impacts from the following five perspectives: global warming potential, water pollution, water consumption, fossil fuel depletion, and chemical impact. We include this impact profile in the description for each and every one of our products. For example, our Fall 2021 women’s CoolLife sleepset (t-shirt and pants) ranks in the following categories when compared to similar products that use non-recycled nylon.
Global Warming Potential: 61% fewer CO2 emissions
Water Pollution: 54% less water pollution
Water Use: 31% less water usage
Fossil Fuel Depletion: 58% less fossil fuel depletion
Chemical Impact: 63% reduced chemical impact
*Based on Higg MSI 3.2 data at Higg.org. Percentage reductions pertain to the finished material phase.
For our Spring 2022 collection, we have started to utilize additional tools within the Higg Index in order to measure our impacts on a product level. This means measuring the cradle-to-grave environmental impacts of a product from the point of resource extraction to manufacturing, all the way through product durability, care, and end of use.
The trims used in our products provide another opportunity to expand on our sustainability. Here’s how we are working to integrate recycled and bio-based materials in our trims.
We use YKK NATULON® Mechanically Recycled zippers whenever possible. NATULON® Mechanically Recycled zippers are made from recycled materials, such as PET bottles, using Mechanical Recycling technologies. The yarn used in the tape of NATULON® Mechanically Recycled zipper is made from more than 99% post-consumer recycled material. Three NATULON® zippers can be made from one recycled plastic bottle.
We use recycled polyester threads across our product line.
Our bio-based trims are Bluesign-certified. The grainy bio-based hard trims have a 50% reduced carbon footprint compared to conventional plastic trims. This feedstock comes from the plant fiber of rice stems and husks, which are a natural occurring byproduct and waste stream in the agricultural sector.
Where possible, we use recycled nylon and polyester. The polyester we use is derived from post-consumer (and often ocean-bound) water bottles. The nylon is sourced from post-industrial waste from textile production. Overall, our Fall 2021 product line is 74% recycled content by fabric weight. ( Per style percentages of recycled content by fabric weight are shown in the chart below.) 19% of our product line is made with low environmental impact Polyethylene fiber content by fabric weight.
As our products evolve, we will continue to pursue additional recycled and sustainable feedstock, as well as expand our use of the Higg Index platform.
NEW SUSTAINABILITY IN PACKAGING
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, plastics and packaging make up roughly 30% of waste in the US annually, much of which ends up in landfills . In order to reduce our contributions to this unnecessary waste, we have focused on omitting packaging as often as possible.
To that end, we do not use conventional polybags, hangers, silica gel packs, or pages of hang tags attached with plastic swift tacks on our products. Every LifeLabs Design product is marked with a unique QR code main label. Scanning the QR code with your phone will send you directly to a paperless online webpage that gives a full profile on the product feature set, intended use, care instructions and environmental impact report.
When a product does require packaging, we have replaced conventional polybags in our supply chain with compostable PLA-based garment bags that can be reused and are certified compostable EN 13432 in your residential green bin. Our paper labels and cardboard shipping boxes are fully recyclable and will be fully FSC-certified/SFI-certified for our Spring 2022 line.
By choosing alternative compostable packaging materials over conventional choices, we are able to divert waste from landfills and provide packaging with circular end-of-life solutions.
New Sustainability in Supply Chain
A sustainable approach to the supply chain is an essential element of our mission. For Fall 2021, we are collecting data across all areas of the supply chain process so that we can continue to improve wherever possible.
ISO 14001:2015 Certification
The garment factories we use are ISO 14001:2015 certified. This voluntary certification provides our factory partners with a framework for environmental management systems that they can use to assess and improve upon their overall environmental impact. This standard allows our manufacturers to monitor their environmental performance. By utilizing this standard, our factory partners are able to continuously improve resource efficiency, reduce waste, and manage environmental obligations with consistency.
The people behind our products matter. We require an independent, third-party audit to verify that the garment production environment is safe and healthy for workers across a multitude of criteria. Structured by 12 principles promoting health and safety for workers, Worldwide Responsible Accredited Production (WRAP) certification ensures fair wages and benefits, compliance with local regulations, and prohibits forced and child labor.
The principles of of WRAP align with two of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, including #8: Decent Work and Economic Growth, and #12: Responsible Consumption and Production.
The textile and apparel industry is highly resource- and energy-intensive because of the many processing steps it takes to transform materials from fiber to yarn to fabric to product. That’s why we partner with fabric mills who have updated equipment with advanced technologies to improve processing efficiencies and significantly reduce their environmental impacts. Our use of PE fiber adds an additional layer of efficiency because of its low processing temps and lower water consumption across the manufacturing stages.
By comparing the amount of resources and energy needed between existing equipment versus upgraded equipment, our fabric partners have been able to recognize the following reductions in resource and energy use:
- 14% reduction in electricity consumption
- 70% reduction in water usage
- 33% reduction in steam consumption
Fabric finishing is an important part of ensuring fabric quality, controlling shrinkage, and setting coloration, but it can also be a resource-intensive step. By utilizing an advanced pre-finishing process with state-of-the-art equipment, our fabrics are able to be finished at lower temperatures. We also use a dry finished process, which mean less energy use and water consumption to finish our fabrics, resulting in:
- 11% reduction in electricity consumption
- 12% reduction in gas consumption
NEW SUSTAINABILITY IN THE FUTURE
As a textile innovation company, we are constantly working to achieve sustainability throughout the lifecycle of LifeLabs Design products. In keeping with that trajectory, we have the following goals in line for the future.
We are currently exploring new recycled and renewable feedstocks for our polyethylene. Where we can cut polyethylene from our supply chain, we have. And where we are not able to yet, we are exploring ways to employ the PE waste stream within our own supply chain as a feedstock for our materials. We are exploring the possibility of expanding our use of ocean-bound plastic waste as a recycled feedstock for our materials, as well as potential renewable feedstocks. In an effort to enable circular end-of-life solutions, we are looking to develop mono-material products.
Product Level Impacts
In the Spring 2022 season, we look forward to utilizing the Product Module within the Higg Index platform to assess overall environmental impact of our product collections including raw materials extraction and processing, product manufacturing, consumer use phase and end of life on a product level.
Carbon Accounting and Carbon Neutrality
Carbon emissions and carbon reduction are the most important part of our environmental footprint.This applies to our manufacturing, supply chain and logistics, as well as the use of our products. We are committed to working toward science-based targets that achieve carbon neutrality by 2025. As we launch our inaugural Fall 2021 season, we continue to collect the information needed to offset our carbon footprint and inform our investment in long-term materials and supply chain solutions.
We are actively working to collect data from our supply chain partners across each step of the manufacturing process in an attempt to build a Supply Chain Energy Index that allows us to understand our energy footprint and areas for improvement among current power sources.
As the world warms, we are presented with a significant opportunity, and more importantly, a huge responsibility, to shift conventional behaviors in the textile manufacturing industry as well as within our everyday lives . LifeLabs Design’s multifaceted approach to New Sustainability offers a new paradigm for energy reduction. By creating products that lower energy usage, incorporate recycled materials, adhere to the highest industry sustainability standards and empower the consumer to lower their own energy usage, we are working toward a better future for all.
This is only the start. Our scientific and technological innovations have the ability to impact how people live globally, well beyond what’s imaginable today. Our vision is to unlock this potential by making our technology available across different industries, shifting the way we think about fabric and its environmental impact.