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News / Comment

08OCT
2013
NEWS / Adaptation Leader: Paul Taylor, Sustainability Manager at Camira Fabrics on innovating and adapting to climate change
Category: Features, Manufacturing, Retail & Supply Chains

 

Image by Camira Fabrics

Camira Fabrics knows what it does best: selling high quality, environmentally friendly fabrics manufactured in-house for its global customers, all with a promise of fulfilling orders within 24 hours. Camira are Britain’s biggest manufacturer of natural fibre textiles, with a turnover of £55 million in 2012 and employing 600 people worldwide. Sustainability has been at the heart of Camira’s philosophy from its very beginnings, but after their HQ in Mirfield, West Yorkshire was at risk from flooding during one of the wettest British summers on record in 2012, the company realised it needed to take action to increase its climate resilience. 

 Fact file: Camira Fabrics

___________________________________

 Industry: Textiles

 Product sales: The UK's largest  manufacturer of natural textiles. They  sell  over 10 million metres of fabric per  year to  customers in 80 countries. 

 Turnover: GBP 55 million worldwide

 Staff: Over 600 worldwide

 Operations: Global with extensive and  complex supplier and customer chains

 Top adaptation tips:

 1) Start talking to companies in your supply chain

 2) Act now. The first steps don't have to  be  complex or costly

 3) Be creative. Reassess your  operations.

 

Acclimatise’s Bob Khosa recently caught up with Paul Taylor, Camira’s Sustainability Manager, to find out how the company is taking a lead role in recognising, understanding and responding to a changing climate.

Bob began by asking how Camira first came to consider climate risk as an important business issue. “Sustainability is a business model for growth”, Paul explained. “Camira was founded on the belief that environmental and financial sustainability work together to breed success.” From a very early stage, Camira realised that sustainability was something that should be applied not just to its products, but also to its operations, finances, workforce and supply chains. The concept is, if you’ll excuse the pun, woven in to the fabric of the company.

Given its environmental credentials, it may have come as a shock to many at Camira to see the floodwaters rising around the company’s HQ in West Yorkshire during the torrential downpours in June 2012. “That was the moment when Camira really began to see climate change as a material risk to its operations”, Paul explained. “Our head office had to be evacuated on a Friday afternoon.

Our sustainability strategy provided the cultural foundation for action in the company, but it only took one small event in 2012 for it to hit people’s radar.

The realisation that the business needs to focus not only on how its products and processes affected the environment, but also on how climate change would affect its operations, sparked the company to reassess some of its most basic assumptions.

 

A catalyst for change

Paul used the events of June 2012 as a catalyst to investigate the company’s climate change exposure. “I recognised then that we needed to take more account of not just rainfall and flooding, but all types of weather events”.

Paul set about investigating the climate risks to Camira’s operations, and as with the company’s sustainability strategy, he looked well beyond Camira’s own facilities. “There are so many points at which climate can impact upon our very complex, supply, manufacturing and customer chain. It was time that we had a long hard look at everything”, he said.

For Camira, understanding the risks to its supply chains was an absolutely fundamental part of increasing its resilience. This is especially important given the level of the company’s involvement at different stages of the production process: it has a track record of working closely with farmers and growers, ensuring that wool and other raw materials are produced in a way that maximises output and quality and minimises the impact on the environment.

A perfect example of the results of positive engagement with suppliers can be seen in the company’s efforts to reduce water consumption.

Water use is our biggest issue”, Paul explained, “we use a great deal of water for cleaning wool, dyeing yarn, washing finished fabric and steam cleaning. A lot of steam is used for creating transport fabrics for example.

In fact the company used upwards of 15 million litres of water for washing fabrics alone in 2012. Camira assessed its climate risk exposure in light of its water intensive operations and found that it was an area of potential vulnerability, especially since the company was sourcing the majority of its water from a single large reservoir.

For Camira it was clear that this was not something that could continue given the likelihood that rainfall will become less predictable in the future. “We realised that sourcing water from one single source might leave us exposed, should something happen to the supply from that single source. We are now sinking our own boreholes.

 

Increasing the resilience throughout the value chain

Camira’s approach to increasing its water resilience did not stop at the doors of its own factory. Paul actively engaged the company’s suppliers, working with them to find ways to reduce water use at each stage of the value chain.

“One example is working with one of our dye houses, W.T. Johnson & Sons, based in Huddersfield”, said Paul. “Our approach was to be open with them, by saying ‘we want to use the absolute minimum amount of water possible when making our textiles, is there anything we can do to help you achieve a reduction?’”.

Camira were able to support the dye house to establish an environmental standard for water use, giving staff time and technical expertise to help them draw up an internal audit and assist them in introducing daily water monitoring.

What was great was that not only is this helping W.T. Johnson & Sons use less water, but they have been able to implement this knowledge in a subsidiary dye house, further increasing the resilience of the supply chain”, said Paul.

However the process of engaging companies at each tier of the supply chain is not always straight forward; a fact readily admitted by Paul. “We have a very complex supply chain, our materials include everything from wool, to polyester to energy to water to dyes and other sorts of treatments. These materials come from all around the world whether it’s wool from New Zealand or polyester from Spain... there is so much going on before you get to Camira.

This initial complexity can be a daunting prospect but by taking the process one step at a time, Paul found that great progress can be made quickly. “Start with your own company, identify the key people who know a lot about a particular part of the operation and talk to them. Our maintenance staff know a huge amount about the vulnerability of buildings and our transport team know all about our supply chains.”

Building resilience in this way is a process of engagement, learning and innovation. Engage with key people in your business, learn about the vulnerabilities and work with them to find innovative solutions.

Another considerable challenge when engaging the supply chain is the variety of types of businesses that are involved. Paul explains that while some companies are open and easy to engage, others are more traditional or lack capacity to provide you with answers. “It is important to remember that many small companies are being asked what is for them, complex information about a complex issue.”

However Paul is adamant that it is good business sense to persevere; “If you are a medium or large organisation that is looking at minimizing climate risk, I think you have an obligation to support [the smaller organisations in your supply chain]. Because by improving their resilience, then you are building the resilience of your own organisation”

So what is holding companies back? “For a lot of companies it is the fear of change.” Paul said. “There is a perception that adapting to climate change will require substantial upheaval to companies’ operations and that it will cost a lot of money. Actually this is often a misplaced fear as much can be achieved simply through tweaking the way you work.”

 

Opportunity from innovation

Recognising climate change as an issue has also opened the door to lucrative opportunities for Camira. “We understand that climate change will continue to affect our products over their lifetimes well after they have left our factory”, explained Paul. “We offer fabric treatments that reduce slippage once upholstered on the seat which is particularly useful for hotter climates, and we’re likely to see an increase in this demand”.

Interestingly, Paul has seen that the adaptation process itself has enabled the company to innovate in ways that would not have happened otherwise. Adaptation has led to innovation and has provided opportunities that were not obvious at the outset.

One example can be seen in Camira’s adoption of bast (plant) fibres, such as Hemp, one of its principal natural fibres. Borne out of innovation and a desire to broaden the product base, Camira reassessed all of its fibres and investigated whether there were other options that would improve their resilience and maintain profit levels.

Hemp emerged as a crop that would fit the bill. First and foremost it provides high quality, hard wearing, good looking fabrics, and it uses far less water and energy to produce. “Hemp is fast growing, and uses far less water than other raw material processes”, Paul explained. “It is also grown here in the UK, allowing Camira to source closer to home”.

Working with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) to innovate in the area of bast fibres, Camira are educating its customers on the material’s many benefits, Hemp is now an important product line for Camira and its use is growing fast, opening up new markets.

“One of the unexpected benefits from our use of hemp comes from the waste product from our manufacturing process”, said Paul. “Hemp’s woody ‘shive’ is separated from the textile fibre before it is processed. We are now exploring the many potential markets for the shive including things such as bio-degradable animal bedding. We have found a whole market… for our waste!”

The co-benefits of adapting to climate change have made sense for Camira on many levels. Reducing its reliance on water-sensitive crops and energy intensive synthetics, Camira is positioning itself one step ahead of its competitors.

“By understanding the risks involved with climate change, we have become more efficient as an organisation. There has been a considerable financial benefit”, said Paul. “Reassessing how your business operates, is essential to staying ahead of the competition. It has made us more creative and… our customers are given confidence when we can show them that we have worked hard to build our resilience” .

Moreover Paul sees no reason why other companies could not replicate Camira’s success. “I haven’t seen anything that we do here at Camira that isn’t replicable, because in all honesty we haven’t spent a penny. One of the biggest barriers, is the perceived availability of finance. In fact you don’t need a lot of money”.

 

For more information, please visit Camira Fabrics’ web site:

Sustainability pages: http://www.camirafabrics.com/sustainability

Sustainability Strategy 2012 – 2015: http://www.camirafabrics.com/documents/download/5265

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Editor’s note: Camira Fabrics provided inputs and steerage for a recent Acclimatise / Halcrow study commissioned by the UK’s Environment Agency. The study developed practical guidance to help UK businesses understand and manage climate change risks and opportunities in their domestic and international supply chains. Using a five-step framework, the guidance introduces users to a quick and easy climate risk management process that requires no prior knowledge of climate science or risk management. Specific insights are provided for large and small businesses, as well as information relevant to different sectors and business types. The guidance is supported by six cases studies of businesses that have pursued and effectively managed climate risks and opportunities in their supply chain.

 

 

“Assessing and managing climate change risks to supply chains: Guidance for UK businesses”, will be released in early October 2013 and will be available from the Environment Agency’s Climate Ready web pages.

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