On the 20th October 2020, UNEP launched a new report on Sustainability and Circularity in the Textile Value Chain
21 October 2020

Download the full report in English and the Executive Summary in French, Arabic, Chinese, Spanish and Russian here


The global textile industry has experienced increased consumption, manufacture and use of textile products, affecting the global climate, the quality of ecosystems and human health. Currently, more than 300 million employees work along the textile value chain and according to one source the sector accounts for approximately 8% of world’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. There is reason for hope since several promising initiatives have been observed to be happening across the sector (coupled with increasing consumer sustainability awareness), from industry, governments and organizations/institutions that promote this change towards increased sustainability & circularity. This is further triggered by the global COVID-19 outbreak, highlighting the urgency but also opportunities to transition from textile industry’s current linear model to a more sustainable, socially inclusive, and circular model.


Sustainability and Circularity in the Textile Value Chain - New Report


Sustainability and circularity in the global textile value chain will require holistic approaches with entirely new & radical ways of doing business, ultimately resulting in a sector that brings benefits to business, society, and the environment.

The Report 

This report aims to map the textile value chain to identify key environmental and socio-economic impacts (‘hotspots’) along the value chain stages and takes stock of existing initiatives working to address them. It then identifies priority actions needed to move towards a more sustainable and circular textile value chain. The report follows UNEP’s value chain approach, which has already been applied for the plastics sector. The report is based on research by UNEP and FICCI as well as multi-stakeholder consultations. The intention of this report is to apply an evidence-based value chain approach to identifying the hotspots and priority actions needed to advance sustainability and circularity in the textile value chain, while giving examples of the many initiatives that are already being undertaken. Further, the report’s purpose is to establish the science base to inform meaningful action by all actors involved.


Top Insights - Did you know?


  • The textile industry's impact on the climate accounts for approximately >3.3 billion mT emitted greenhouse gases (GHGs) per year while consuming around 215 trillion litres of water
  • Producing 1 kg of textiles requires 0.58 kg of chemicals
  • The global textile industry has severe impacts on our ecosystems, with global cotton cultivation requiring an estimated 200 thousand tonnes of pesticides and 8 million tonnes of fertilizers per year making up 16% and 4% of the total global use of pesticides and fertilizers respectively
  • At a global level, the use phase also accounts for the highest impact on freshwater use, though looking at this from a water scarcity footprint perspective shows the highest footprint from raw material production, mostly cotton cultivation
  • 36% of the global apparel's climate impact originates from the bleaching/dyeing and finishing phase during textile production, closely followed by the use phase accounting for 24%
  • The global textile industry's impact on water resources (water scarcity footprint) has its highest share in China (34%), followed by India (12%) and USA (5%)


Priority Actions Identified

This report has identified the priority actions needed to advance circularity and sustainability in textile value chains through an evidence-based approach. Circularity goes beyond incremental improvements, e.g. increasing resource efficiency, increasing recycling rates and decreasing hazardous chemical use, and requires a system-wide approach, transforming the way textiles are designed, produced, consumed, and disposed of. Achieving systemic changes will require coordinated actions by all stakeholders and across regions.


Textile Work Underway & Next Steps

UNEP aims to provide leadership and convene partners to address all three core needs, to develop knowledge and solutions to advance towards a sustainable and circular textile value chain, while supporting the sound management of chemicals. This will contribute to achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, especially SDG 12 on responsible consumption and production.

The report sets the basis for a second report that UNEP is now developing, again based on consultations, in order to provide a roadmap for action, outlining the key actions that need to be taken, and by which stakeholder groups, to make the textile value chain more circular. At present, the Intex project is being rolled out that supports governments and SMEs within the textile sector in three countries in Africa (Sep 2020 – Aug 2023). Further, UNEP in a long-term effort partnership with the International Resource Panel, is initiating an economic modelling exercise over the next three years (Sep 2020 – Sep 2023), which assesses sustainable economic models’ potentials to support the transition to SCP in the textile value chain.


An overview and more information on UNEP’s textile works are available here:

If you are interested to learn more about UNEP’s work, please get in touch with Ms Bettina Heller (Programme Officer at UN Environment Programme) bettina.heller@un.org

You can also read here the interview released by Eco-Age Magazine.

Listen here to the recording of the webinar report launch with exciting panelists