The future of nonwovens and related industries: More transparent, trusted and circular?
1 February 2018
Comment by Pierre Wiertz, EDANA General Manager

Edelman’s 2017 Trust Barometer revealed a global crisis in trust. Public trust in four key institutions - business, government, NGOs, and the media – has declined across the board, a trend not reported since Edelman began tracking trust among the general population in 2012[1]

Trust in business fell globally from 53 to 52 % in 2017, and, furthermore, business is ‘distrusted’ (a score of less than 50%) in 13 out of the 28 countries surveyed.

To rebuild trust and restore faith in the system, according to Edelman, institutions must step outside of their traditional roles and work toward a new, more integrated model that puts people, and their concerns, at the centre of everything they do.

In relating this more specifically to a (consumer goods) business, Kelly M. Semrau, Senior Vice President, Global Corporate Affairs, Communication & Sustainability at SC JOHNSON asks [2] “how can you build trust, if your consumers aren’t a part of your conversation? We approach that by initiating a dialogue about transparency. That includes being open about the ingredients we choose, where and how we use them, and the science behind the selection”.

Transparency in the Nonwovens Industry

Our industry has faced a similar predicament, in the last few years the whole nonwovens supply chain has been challenged on the composition of its products by various stakeholders including the media and social networks, NGOs and consumer organisations. Although individual companies, and especially branded goods producers, obviously have their own strategies in this respect, they also turn to EDANA for collaborative action to provide a more powerful industry response. 

In view of the high safety profile of our industry’s products, and the decades of shared product stewardship experience within EDANA, establishing factual evidence itself is not a major hurdle. It is how and with whom we communicate that requires an elaborate strategy.

Trust building

As a result, and as part of its leading role in supporting the sustainable growth of the industry, EDANA has adopted a far-reaching plan on “building trust”, centred on three pillars, namely: communication, science and self (or voluntary) regulation. Devised to primarily address the needs of the makers of absorbent hygiene products whose safety has been challenged, it will also serve other sectors, as any nonwoven application (from automotive to construction) may similarly require open communication on product composition and risk assessment. Transparency and trust as requisites for any sustainable business are here to stay… 

Molecular. And circular?

The other major trend, if not a mega-trend, all industries are facing is the concept of the circular economy. A recent Accenture study[3] explored the potential of this construct for the European chemical industry, taking a holistic view that goes beyond individual factors and issues - such as CO² emissions, plastics recycling or landfill policy - to create an integrated picture of the whole concept. This makes for very interesting reading, in particular the fascinating finding that by replacing the current linear model with a five-step ‘loop’ process for circulating molecules (from renewable raw materials to product re-use, mechanical recycling, chemical recycling and energy recovery and carbon use), up to 60% of the molecules provided by the European chemical industry to customer industries can be re-circulated. 

From the perspective of the nonwovens industry, the only major relevant aspect of the circular economy concept that seems to be missing from the Accenture report is addressed by Professor John Ward in a Horizon 2020 Expert Paper on Synthetic Biology[4], namely the potential of cellulosic and plastic waste recycling by synthetic biological processes. In his view, these waste streams represent highly concentrated sources of organic compounds that could be transformed back into chemicals in new biofactories.  

Expect to hear more on these new developments at future EDANA events, and in particular at the upcoming International Nonwovens Symposium in Rome in May and at OUTLOOK™2018 in Dubrovnik in October.

[1]Source: 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer, Global Annual study



[4] Synthetic Biology: From Science to Bioeconomy Application: Opportunities for challenge-led Innovation.