EcoVero, an alternative to viscose fibre

Excerpt: Austrian cellulosic fiber producing company Lenzing has launched a new brand of eco-friendly viscose fiber called EcoVero with the lowest environmental impact in the industry.

AS the fashion industry heads towards a future where textile resources are scarce, natural fibers such as cotton, which remains a resource-intensive material, and petroleum-based fibers like acrylic, polyester, nylon, and spandex remain high in demand. But as the production of these fibers continues to cause irreversible damage to our environment, more and more companies are seeking out an alternative, sustainable fibers, and fabrics. Fibre Scientists around the globe are exploring the future possibilities offered for sustainable innovations in the textile and fashion industry. They have examined the new, more responsible option to viscose - EcoVero.

Austrian cellulosic fiber producing company Lenzing has launched a new brand of eco-friendly viscose fiber called EcoVero with the lowest environmental impact in the industry.

The Austrian company said, the environmental awareness of consumers has been growing steadily over the last decade, more recently in the fashion and textile industry. Textile consumption is expected to double by 2025, and the industry is anxiously looking for more sustainable solutions with minimal eco-footprint.

Lenzing says, it enforces strict environmental standards during viscose production and has invested millions over the years to achieve an eco-friendly production EcoVerofiber. The new fiber is produced complying with the stringent guidelines of the EU Eco Label, a world-leading environmental manufacturing standard, “With the special identification technology for EcoVerofiber, we are supporting the trend in the fashion industry towards greater transparency” said Robert Van De Kerlhof Chief Commercial Officer, Lenzing.

Viscose, which is also known as rayon, has been used to make soft, silky fabrics, luxurious feeling fabrics. Made from purified cellulose, it is produced from specially processed wood pulp and is often compared to silk and cotton. However although the fabric made from this fibre may be beautiful, viscose remains a semi-synthetic, chemical fibre. Often the timber used to for the wooden pulp stems from irrigation-intensive monocultures, which negatively impact the earth. Large amounts of highly toxic chemicals, such as carbon disulphide are used during the production of viscose, which has led to a number of worker poisonings. In addition, shipping the cellulose-based fibre around the globe also increases the level of CO2 emissions, making it a harmful fibre.

Produced by Lenzing, leading cellulose fibre producer, near the Attersee Lake in Austria, EcoVero is made using sustainable wood from controlled sources which are either FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) or PEFC (Program for Endorsement of Forest Certification Schemes) certified in Europe, instead of bamboo or eucalyptus which is commonly used in normal viscose production. More than 60 percent of the trees used to producedEcoVerofibers come from Austria and Bavaria to ensure lower emissions.

The cellulose fiber is produced on-site at a state of the art facility via a new, innovative environmental process which has significantly lower emissions and water impact than conventional viscose. Nearly all the chemicals used during the production of EcoVero are recovered and reused. Compared to conventional viscose production, the production of EcoVero causes 50 percent less emissions and takes up half as much energy and water in addition to its pulp bleaching being 100 percent chlorine-free.

What's more, Lenzing also offers full supply chain transparency which makes EcoVerofibers identifiable in the final product through its innovative identification technology. “We are supporting the trend in the fashion industry towards greater transparency,” said Robert van de Kerkhof. “It is becoming increasingly important to know where the products come from and which path they have covered.”

Armedangels is the first and only organic, sustainable fashion brand to incorporate EcoVero into its collections for winter 2017, and visited Lenzing production facility in Austria to see first hand how the eco-fiber is made. “EcoVero really elevates viscose to a whole new level,” said Brandt, after inspecting the EcoVero fabrics. “We are especially happy about the fact that these fibers do not come from monocultures - as it is the case with bamboo or eucalyptus - but from sustainable forestry. The transport is not as much of an issue either, as it doesn't need to be shipped around the globe since they use timber from Europe that is processed into fiber right on site at Lenzing in Austria. This is the best argument for us.”

Speaking about the backdrop to the new viscose innovation, Amit Gautam, vice-president for global business management textiles, said, "People tend to think of viscose as one market in itself. Our starting hypothesis is this: viscose constitutes multiple markets at the same time. If you look at the sustainability value pyramid, at the very top you have the greenest and cleanest viscose that one can make. At the very bottom you have parts of China where plants are being shut down even as we speak. Even the Chinese government are telling them that you are too polluting. It is to that extent that there is a challenge that includes waste water that is led into the rivers, sulphur emissions, how the wood is being sourced, etc.

"With EcoVero we are trying to claim a space in the top of the pyramid with a fibre that we are saying is the cleanest that you will get on the planet. Our wood is certified by the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) and the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). But most of the industry stops there. Something that is as important is the conversion of wood into fibre. The production process is energy-intensive, chemicals intensive, water-intensive."

Gautam continued, "Moreover, there is an Eco EU Label certification, which is a difficult standard to achieve. EcoVero has 50 per cent lower emissions and water impact than any viscose that you can find in the market. The Eco EU Label is only awarded to products which have a significantly lower net environmental impact than comparable products in the market."

The third factor is transparency and traceability, he said, "because if you don't do that, the first two steps are meaningless. We have now made a change in the manufacturing process. For the first time in the cellulosic industry, at the garment stage we can identify whether the certification has been done. We can test and tell a brand that it is EcoVero viscose and not any Chinese viscose. That's an assurance for brands/retailers." Lenzing is also offering a range of marketing services around EcoVero.

On Indian prospects, S Jayaraman, regional commercial director for Asia-Pacific and South Asia, said, "With sustainability issues catching up and consumers into responsible shopping behaviour, there is a good scope for EcoVero to pick up. Later this year, we will bring this product from Austria to the Indian market. In the coming years, we will roll out in a bigger way."

Providing a backdrop to this new innovation, the company announced, "The environmental awareness of consumers has been growing steadily over the last decade, more recently in the fashion and textile industry. Textile consumption is expected to double by 2025, and the industry is anxiously looking for more sustainable solutions with minimal eco-footprint. Achieving low environmental impact requires developing eco-friendly raw materials and a sustainable manufacturing process." The new fibre is the latest in a range of fibre innovations from Lenzing.

Environmental not-for-profit Canopy and the Rainforest Alliance released the first independent verification audit results of Lenzing's wood sourcing. The audit uses a risk-based approach and requires verifiable evidence that wood and pulp used by Lenzing for the production of fabric and fibres, such as Lenzing Viscose, Lenzing Modal, Tencel and Refibra, fulfill a robust verification framework and audit process that was developed by Canopy in partnership with the auditors Rainforest Alliance. Since its launch in 2013, the CanopyStyle initiative is recognised as the fastest moving environmental issue within the apparel industry.

The key findings of Lenzing's audit included: the current Lenzing fibres supply chains are confirmed as low risk for sourcing from ancient and endangered forests or other controversial sources, excluding small volumes of trial material; a comprehensive understanding of their supply chain structure and the geography of all dissolving wood pulp manufacturers; a strong commitment to the company policy to avoid sourcing from ancient and endangered forests.

Although some argue that EcoVero remains a viscose product, whose production still requires the use of potentially hazardous chemicals even using newer, more sustainable production processes, the new fiber is still a welcome alternative to conventional viscose. Over the years Lenzing has invested several million euros into improving its viscose production to ensure it is environmentally friendly as possible. In addition, the production location is key for many fashion brands keen to source the fiber, as the laws and regulations concerning production are stricter and monitored more tightly than in other developing countries which have become sourcing hubs for the industry.

Key benefits

Following are the advantages

  1. Up to 50% lower emissions & water impact than generic viscose The manufacturing of LenzingEcoverofibers generates up to 50% lower emissions and water impact compared to generic Viscose.

  2. Ecoverofibers are produced using pulp, which is derived from the renewable resource wood as raw material. Lenzing purchases wood and pulp derived from responsibly managed forests and certified to come from sustainable sources.

3.Supply chain transparency

A special manufacturing system enables LenzingEcoverobranded Viscose fibers to be identified in the final product, even after long textile processing and conversion steps through the value chain. Environmentally conscious consumers can be assured that retailers and brands are incorporating genuine LenzingEcoveroeco-responsible Viscose in their products.

4. Certified eco-responsible

You can be assured that the fashion choices are sensitive to environmental concerns. Manufactured only from certified and controlled wood sources and produced with significantly lower fossil energy use and water than generic viscose, LenzingEcoverobranded Viscose fibers are certified with the internationally recognized EU Ecolabel. This label of environmental excellence is only awarded to products and services, which have a significantly lower environmental impact throughout their lifecycle: from raw material extraction to production, distribution and disposal.

Author Details

Dr. N. N. Mahapatra

Business Head ( Dyes )

Shree Pushkar Chemicals & Fertilisers Ltd.

Goregaon (E), Mumbai - 400 063, India