How Aquafil is Addressing Sustainable Development Goals

While sustainable development and climate change are being discussed by world leaders at the G7 Summit in Taormina, we look deeper at our role as a business. We take it not just as a responsibility, but as a business opportunity.

Battling climate change, one of the greatest challenges of our time, is vital for the success of the wider concept of sustainable development. This has been recognized by the Italian G7 Presidency 2017, which built part of its work program around the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). While transnational initiatives and agendas are essential for leading the way toward sustainability, they are not enough; it is crucial that the private sector take action. Businesses can tailor their activities to specific SDG, recognizing opportunities for making the greatest impact and at the same time driving their own growth. A great example is Aquafil, which has taken sustainability not just as a commitment but also as a business opportunity.

G7 Summit prompts governments and businesses to act on climate change

For years, climate change has been recognized as one of the most pressing issues our world is facing by the G7 forum, and this year it is no different. Italian 2017 G7 Presidency follows the notion that governments should first and foremost implement policies to meet expectations of its citizens regarding issues of security, environmental sustainability and economic well-being, which are well represented in three pillars.

Heads of state and governments of the G7 countries meet yearly at the G7 Summit to discuss world issues. This year they meet under the Italian presidency in Taormina, Sicily on May 26 and 27. Among other issues, they will discuss the topic of “World Economy and Sustainable Growth (Trade — Climate & Energy)”. The G7 Summit publication “Climate Change — The New Economy” presents views and practices of some the most powerful individuals in the world, coming from governments, businesses, academia and NGO’s — including Aquafil and their dedication to climate change.

The G7 and the UN Sustainable Development Goals

Climate change as one of the primary target areas is a part of the broader topic of the 2nd pillar, which is focused around the United Nations 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda or Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDGs are a continuation of the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) initiative which ended in 2015. They are essentially a call-to-action for all UN member states to adopt policies and changes intended for creating a world we want to live in ourselves and leave behind for future generations. The changes must occur on a global scale, and the agreement on the 17 goals brings governments, businesses and citizens together in this endeavour.

Sustainable Development Goals. Image: UN

The G7 — leaders of the world’s most influential and technically advanced democracies — have the responsibility and the leverage to bring this ambitious vision from paper to practice. Since the adoption of the SDGs in 2015, the G7 leaders have discussed the ways and means of implementing the SDGs into global and national policies.

Climate change is integrated in most of the SDGs

The 17 SDGs span across several development areas, which are closely interlinked, as each one affects the others. They aim at ending poverty, protecting the planet and assuring peace and prosperity for all humankind. If we want to secure a long-term well-being for our planet and its inhabitants, we must enable a responsible, sustainable production and consumption, and reward practices that actively fight climate change.

Climate change is a goal on its own, but it is at the same time integrated in most of the other goals. Practically all the SDGs can be affected by climate change, either directly or indirectly. In order to end hunger, food production systems must be invulnerable to sudden changes in the climate. Extreme weather events can damage vital infrastructure for energy, water, transport and health, and diminish efforts to promote economic growth. Droughts and floods put water resources at risk. Often, the most affected by these events are the already disadvantaged communities, which further widens inequality.

Therefore, for the SDGs to be successful, it is necessary to fight climate change. Greenhouse gases produced by human activities are now at their highest levels in history, but technological progress enables countries to turn toward greener, low-carbon economies.

The crucial role of businesses

The G7 countries as well as the rest of the UN member states have committed to the SDGs, but perhaps the greatest potential for a positive change is in the hands of private businesses. They have the knowledge and resources needed to push for the progress on a larger scale. They bring the biggest share of finance, technology and innovative approaches to the table. The SDGs can be a useful framework for companies, as they help define key areas in which they can make a difference. The framework does not only assist in shaping strategies and activities, but also in communicating and reporting them.

Adopting sustainability is not only a responsibility for businesses, but also an opportunity. And quite possibly, an inevitability. Consumers are exponentially becoming more informed and are starting to demand businesses show responsibility for our planet. Being concerned only with short-term profits may soon be out of the question, as consumers, investors and other stakeholders will reward responsible businesses and punish the irresponsible ones. Studies have shown that sustainability business practices have a significant positive effect on brand reputation. Building business goals and strategies with sustainability in mind can mean a competitive advantage, and at the same time companies can benefit in more practical ways, for example by saving on energy, waste, green taxes, etc.

Sustainable Development Goals in action — example of Aquafil

Sustainability is an integral part of the Aquafil Group; therefore, we developed THE ECO PLEDGE®, guidelines as a foundation to all operations. This commitment applies not only to the environmental, but the economic and social aspects as well, and is yearly described in the Sustainability Report. Along these lines, the operations of Aquafil are following several of the SDGs, with the no. 13 (“Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts”) in the forefront. Here, we’ll take a closer look into those which are specifically related to environmental issues.

Battling climate change with energy efficiency

In 2007, Aquafil opened an Energy & Recycling Business Unit to promote energy usage from renewable sources, to reduce emissions and improve overall energy efficiency. Aquafil favors renewable energy sources, such as hydropower and photovoltaic power, which have a lower environmental impact than carbon based energy sources. Reducing CO2 emissions in all the production facilities is a part of the pledge and an active mission of the Energy & Recycling Business Unit.

Aquafil is also maximizing energy efficiency in collaboration with other businesses outside Aquafil itself. For example, the Slovenian factory in Ljubljana transfers its excess thermal energy to the adjacent water park Atlantis, which helps reducing the overall environmental impact of the factory’s operations. A direct result of this collaboration is an estimated 2,000 t per year drop in CO2 emissions — equivalent to greenhouse gases emitted by 1.100 cars travelling 35 km a day for one year!

Moreover, approximately 74% of electricity purchased by Aquafil in 2015 was hydroelectrically generated. In 2015, Aquafil was also able to reduce emissions related to transport under its direct control by almost 19% in respect to 2014 by optimizing its logistic operations.

Sustainable consumption and production

One of the targets of SDG no. 12 (“Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns”) is to substantially reduce waste generation through prevention, reduction, recycling and reuse. Many businesses of today are starting to implement closed-loop systems and circular economies, and the ECONYL® Regeneration system is a good example of such practice.

In the production of ECONYL® nylon yarn, regenerated from waste nylon, CO2 equivalent emissions are 58% lower than in virgin nylon yarn production.

The ECONYL® Regeneration System is a process of producing regenerated caprolactam — the material for nylon yarn — from waste, which would otherwise be deposited in landfills. This process is infinite as the quality of ECONYL® regenerated yarn is the same as virgin nylon.

With the ECONYL® Regeneration system, Aquafil cooperated with the EcoMeTex, an EU project developed to create an eco-efficient and cost-effective eco-design methodology for recyclable textile coverings used in the European construction and transport industry.

Additionally, Aquafil addresses this SDG by considering processes that are not directly under our control — logistics, packaging and production of supplementary materials. We have launched a project called “ECONYL® Qualified”, which provides soon-to-be mandatory guidelines (as of July 1st, 2018) for all the ECONYL’s suppliers in the supply chain — to encourage excellence and bring innovation into the supply chain.

Conserving life below water

Oceans are vital for our planet; they provide and regulate rainwater, drinking water, food resources, climate and the air we breathe. SDG no. 14 speaks to the essential role of seas and oceans and calls for a sustainable management of this key resource: “Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development”.

Reducing ocean pollution is a longstanding effort of Aquafil. In March 2013, we co-founded an international project “The Healthy Seas, a Journey from Waste to Wear”. The main objective of this joint initiative is to recover fishing nets abandoned in the oceans and collect them for recycling. Abandoned fishing nets can drift through the ocean for hundreds of years and are responsible for injuries and deaths of marine animals (dolphins, turtles, birds). According to estimates, abandoned fishing gear represents 10 % of all marine litter.

The Healthy Seas — ridding the oceans of stray fishing nets and turning them into beautiful products

With the help of volunteer divers and fishing communities, the Healthy Seas Initiative has collected more than 160 tonnes of fishing nets in the first three years of existence, and the efforts are continuously growing. The fishing nets are recycled into ECONYL® yarn, and later get a new life as high-quality products such as socks, swimwear, underwear and carpets.

The example of Aquafil and ECONYL® yarn shows how businesses can steer and enforce the sustainable development efforts. Governments, however, should do more to support and reward such initiatives and enable their success with policies, regulations and financial boosts. Events like the G7 Summit in Taormina are just the right opportunity to create a collaborative framework for governments, businesses and civil society, and to make sure that the Paris Agreement and the SDGs will be implemented.