In 2021, a total of 89.3 million people were forcibly displaced (The UN Refugee Agency, or UNHCR). In addition to man-made crises, climate change and natural disasters have become an exacerbated threat that forces people to flee within their country or across international borders. The UNHCR notes that now an average of 20 million people a year are forced to leave their homes due to climate- and environmental-reasons.
An unfortunate irony of the humanitarian sector’s work is that in an effort to alleviate the suffering of vulnerable or displaced groups, their actions simultaneously contribute to climate change. Immense greenhouse gas emissions come as a result of direct activity (e.g. travel) and indirect activity (e.g. procurement of relief products).
Understandably, as not to exacerbate the very issues that they are having to respond to, the humanitarian aid sector is under increasing pressure to minimise their environmental impact.
A Challenging Criteria
Key relief products, such as tarps, shelters and blankets, have strict performance, health and safety standards. Quite often they are made through unsustainable production processes, using virgin materials which are non-compostable or degradable, furthering negative environmental impact. This is exacerbated by the procurement practices of the humanitarian sector, where price-sensitivity results in the purchasing of cheaper, thus unsustainable, products.
However, as part of the greener response initiative, the UNHCR demands a range of efforts to minimise impacts of said products and their packaging, without compromising technical standards.
Potentials in Pakistan
Pakistan is home to some of the world’s largest manufacturers of humanitarian relief products; however, the country is also incredibly vulnerable to the effects of climate change. This year (2022), Pakistan entered a state of emergency with severe flooding causing forced homelessness to more than 30 million people, surpassing even the global average. Thus, improving the circularity and carbon footprint of humanitarian relief production doubles in importance for the country, identified in a McKinsey report as having the highest degree of exposure in the economic transition to net-zero emissions (~58% transition exposure score, mckinsey.com).
This develoPPP project sets out to assist a major Pakistan-based factory producing relief blankets, and its associated partners, to implement circular systems into their operations. In doing so, the manufacturers and purchasing aid groups can reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and manufacturing waste simultaneously. This will showcase the efficacy of resource and system management in practical footprint reduction for the sectors.
The participating project partners will enter a strategic partnership, to collaboratively build new infrastructure and facilities aimed at:
(1) Creating an in-house waste-sorting infrastructure focused on the collection of post-industrial waste.
(2) Recycling waste into new material feedstock, using innovative recycling approaches and following the Global Recycled Standard (GRS).
(3) Developing material and transport efficiency for blankets and their packaging based on the principles of circularity and sustainability.
Encouraging Long Term Effects
Implementing the textile waste management system and the new design solutions are only the first part of this crucial develoPPP Public-Private-Partnership project. Other key performance goals include measuring viability of the product, as well as knowledge dissemination to academia and the industry as a whole.
A quantifiable Life Cycle Assessments (LCA) will be conducted, which is a systematic analysis of the potential environmental impacts of the product during its life cycle. This will be a comparative study between the conventional product and the new, sustainable alternative, including new methods of packaging, folding for storage and packing efficiency for shipping. This comprehensive research will take roughly 12-14 months, measuring upstream and downstream suppliers and processes. The two LCAs will thus quantify the difference in CO2 emissions of each product and their overall environmental impacts.
This 2-year Public-Private-Partnership project, co-financed by the German Investment and Development Corporation / DEG Impulse gGmbH from public funds of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), has been conceptualised and will be implemented by expert consultants of Closed Loop Fashion.