Optimistically Seeking Goals
Bob Buck Believes the Biggest Impact Is Made by Working Together
We’ve now come to the realization that “this collective effort by the industry is essential for the changes we’re trying to achieve to take place, and at a scale that’s going to matter for us, the planet and society,” says Chemours’ Bob Buck.
He should know. Buck is highly regarded for his expertise and advocacy on responsible chemistry for performance textiles in the active/outdoor market. His 30-plus year career, first with DuPont, and now as Technical Fellow for Chemours, has allowed Buck to experience the industry’s arc of sustainable development.
“When you think what’s happened in the last 10 years, it has been pretty amazing,” comments Buck, who is an advisory committee member of the Green Chemistry & Commerce Council (GC3), a past member of the board of directors of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, and was an early participant of the OIA Sustainable Working Group.
Last October Chemours issued its first Corporate Responsibility Commitment (CRC) Report, highlighting ten ambitious goals targeted for completion by 2030, which are grouped into three buckets: Inspired people, Shared Planet, Evolved Portfolio.
Here, Buck highlights significant moments in the textile industry’s path toward sustainability with Chemours’ CRC report serving as a prime example of not only one company’s campaign, but importantly how the biggest impact we the textile community can make is by working together.
Can you identify a transformative moment, or moments, when our industry made sustainability a priority and driver of innovation?
“Most notable for me was when the Outdoor Industry Association working group, now known as the Sustainable Working Group, conceived the idea of the Eco Index.
It was an outward recognition that this idea of sustainability and environmental impact associated with product, and a social aspect, needed to be systematized, so that the industry as a whole could measure and take action — individually, but also, and most importantly, together to bring change. This was around 2011.
This was the progenitor to what is now the Higg Index, a tool that measures environmental and social performance. The Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC) picked up the Eco Index and turned it into the Higg. This helped create scale, by bringing together a much bigger apparel and footwear community on a global basis. Additionally, it got everybody working together in a common way so they could look at common solutions to common problems with focus on the global supply chain of manufacturers, brands and retailers.
When you consider that there are tens of thousands of factories making product for this industry that are assessing their environmental and social performance pouring through their supply chain and taking collective action, to prove it, that’s extraordinary.
Now, in codification that the Higg is a big thing, Higg Co has recently become a commercial enterprise, making the methodology usable for any business on the planet. To me that is another really significant milestone. It says, ‘Wow, this methodology can be really, really, valuable — beyond the apparel and footwear industry — to all global industry.’ There’s realization that this collective effort by the industry is essential, and must happen in order for the changes we’re trying to achieve to take place — and at a scale that’s going to matter to us, to the planet, and to society as a whole.”
How are the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals significant in general, and to Chemours specifically?
“The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UNSDG) set a benchmark for everybody on the planet. The goals are important glue that transcends all of us.
Chemours has embraced the UN SDGs, and they are embodied in our Corporate Responsibility Commitment (CRC) program. This basically announces to the world that we want to be part of this revolution going forward in how we make things, what we make, and that we are a contributor as one of the leaders in the industry to make in this world the place we want it to be.
We are working really hard to operationalize all these goals so we can measure, report, and show that we are making progress toward these commitments
Our CRC program features three buckets with goals centered on people, planet and product. For example, one goal is that we’re going to generate 50 percent of our revenue from products that we can directly link to our contribution to the UNSDGs.”
How challenging is finding the balance between essential chemistry and the needs of our planet?
“The biggest challenge is the massive amount of infrastructure that exists for what we do today. You can’t flip a switch, turn that infrastructure to dust, and have it created in a better way. It’s going to take awhile to turn all that over – that’s reality.
What I see from my involvement at Green Chemistry Council (GC3) are people totally juiced about this idea and super energized because it means companies are setting goals that align with our personal beliefs and the way we want to go about our lives. It’s like how we choose the food we eat. My mantra is chemistry and materials are nutrients for the consumer product and industrial ecosystem and we’ve got to make healthy ‘food’ for them.
Our Teflon EcoElite is a good example. It is a vanguard type technology that embodies this approach. It sets a marker, that says, ‘see that, do more of that.’
(Teflon EcoElite is a renewably sourced plant-based, non-fluorinated fabric repellant. It provides durable water repellency, and can meet 30 wash durability. It features 60 percent renewable content and is recognized as a USDA-certified Biobased product.)
We like people to know that the product was designed to align with important societal values and business goals that we’re working toward. For example, we love that our technology encourages the concept of circularity. It has stellar performance and allows garments to last longer and require less cleaning – this can have massive environmental impact.
I think of it as creating nutrients for a healthy industry; our CRC embodies how to make materials like that going forward.”
Are you optimistic about the future of sustainable textiles?
“Yes. I have the unique honor of being able to interact with a lot of people who are working so hard and have so much heart, into making this work, because actually I think we know we can do it.
We have to slowly grind through this big transformation of our industrial complexes. I don’t see people waiting. The time is right. Companies realize that doing good for its employees and the planet is important – and in fact, this makes a company more valuable. And that’s phenomenal.
We’re at the point of re-thinking how we build what we make, and are reminded everyday that we have a model system already in place — our planet.”