Leaving as little trace as possible behind on our planet – that’s our stated goal. To achieve this, we look at our products as a whole. In addition to minimising our carbon footprint, we also focus on saving water, reducing pollutants, minimising microplastics, recyclability, manufacturing long-lasting products and supporting our production partners to continuously improve working conditions.
Vast quantities of water are used every day for washing, dyeing and finishing clothes. According to estimates from the World Bank, dyeing processes in the textile industry are responsible for approx. 20% of industrial water pollution worldwide. Our Sympatex membrane made from 100% polyester has always had a low water footprint (50% less than a PTFE membrane, for example). However, we are working hard to reduce our water consumption even further and stop industrial processes that contribute to the pollution of this valuable resource.
Mono-materials make all the difference
Water can also be saved by using recycled laminates made from a single raw material. The lamination of our Sympatex® polyester membrane with recycled polyester outer and lining materials results in mono-material laminates. This has two advantages. First, the laminates can be returned to the closed textile loop at the end of their product life cycle without any problems. Secondly, recycled polyester requires much less water during production than new, crude oil-based polyester fibres. In fact, when you compare the production of 1kg of recycled fibres with 1kg of mineral oil-based polyester fibres, the water saving of approx. 90 percent is very impressive – instead of 60 litres of water for 1kg of fibres, you only need around 3 litres.
Sympatex laminates are non-toxic and therefore safe for people and the environment. We have been dealing with the issue of how to manage harmful substances for many years and we are a trailblazer among functional specialists in the textile industry.
The Sympatex membrane is PFAS-free and therefore PTFE-free. PFAS is a group of substances which, among others, is classified by the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) as posing high environmental and health risks. PFAS do not occur naturally. Once created, they are persistent, i.e. non-degradable substances, that are permanently present in our environmental system and they have been linked to serious health problems such as cancer, miscarriage, birth defects, reduced immune response to vaccinations and weakened immune systems.
In place of these extremely risky chemicals, that are frequently used in other membranes, the Sympatex membrane is made from polyetherester, a chain of polyester and polyether molecules. It is therefore environmentally friendly, kind on the skin and can be recycled like a PET bottle. The performance of fluorine-free polyester membranes and PTFE-based membranes is very similar, in terms of being windproof, breathable and waterproof.
Sympatex has been campaigning intensively at a political level for a ban on PTFE and fluorine-based water-repellent coatings in the textile industry for many years. In its Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability adopted in 2020, the EU took a stand for the first time and discussed a PFAS ban to help ensure that they meet their ambition of zero pollution. Taking an active role in this process and protecting the environment and people from these substances is a matter very close to our hearts.
A two-sided position paper and the corresponding report are available to view here.
Sympatex is a founding member of the testing and certification system STANDARD 100 by OEKO-TEX®. This system tests textile products for harmful substances according to strict standards. Our membrane as well as all our laminates and tapes are certified Product Class 1 or Product Class 2 in accordance with STANDARD 100 by OEKO-TEX. This allows our products to be used by babies and small children or in direct contact with skin, such as in underwear and bedsheets as well as running and biking wear. Compliance with the European chemicals regulation (REACH) is checked and confirmed each year through OEKO-TEX® certifications.
As a bluesign® partner since 2008, we fulfil the strictest guidelines in environmental protection, health and safety. We therefore have a high-quality and environmentally sound production chain. Our certificates and product lists have been featured in the new bluesign GUIDE since 2022.
As the first functional specialist, Sympatex has been offering an environmentally friendly, fluorocarbon-free DWR finish for textiles since mid-2008 with the Bionic-Finish® Eco from Rudolf GmbH. DWR stands for “durable water repellent”. Textiles that are treated with a DWR finish remain dry because water droplets can’t hold on to the surface of the material and simply roll off. This allows the integrated, waterproof membrane to “breathe” as designed and perspiration can escape.
The Manufacturing Restricted Substances List (MRSL) details chemicals that are either restricted to set concentration limits or completely prohibited from use in the production process. The Restricted Substances List (RSL) only applies to the finished product and it details substances or substance groups that must be restricted or not detectable in the finished product. Sympatex ensures compliance by adhering to the ZDHC MRSL in order to reduce the human and ecotoxicological burden caused by chemicals and to meet customer requirements in the textile and footwear industry.
ZDHC stands for “Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals”. It is an industry forum founded by internationally leading brands with the aim of eliminating the discharge of dangerous chemicals in waste water. The German Partnership for Sustainable Textiles has adopted the ZDHC list of harmful substances and, as a member of the partnership, Sympatex commits to monitoring its entire supply chain with help of the ZDHC MRSL.
We also check our supply chain for harmful substances on a regular basis. Sympatex uses, among other things, the Higg Index by the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC), which is an assessment tool that measures and evaluates the sustainability performance of companies. Our suppliers evaluate different aspects of their production facilities using the Higg Facility Environmental Module (FEM). This includes, for example, energy and greenhouse gas emissions, water consumption and waste water, waste management and chemicals. We support them in identifying opportunities and developing and implementing measures to improve their performance.
Social supply chain
We strive for the best – including in our supply chain. That’s why we incorporate our suppliers in our drive for greater sustainability – not only in terms of better environmental protection, but also better working conditions in our supply chain and the entire textile industry.
Sympatex has been a BSCI participant since 2018. The Business Social Compliance Initiative is a leading initiative for companies that are committed to improving working conditions in factories and farms all over the world. The BSCI code of conduct is based on international conventions such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, OECD directives, the UN Global Compact and recommendations from the International Labour Organization (ILO). BSCI participants commit to continual improvement, collaboration and empowerment. As a BSCI member, Sympatex uses the code of conduct as a guide for our business practices.
Sympatex uses the Higg Index by the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC). This index is an assessment tool that measures and evaluates the sustainability performance of companies and identifies priority focus areas and opportunities. Using the Higg Facility Social and Labor Module (FSLM), our suppliers measure the social impact of their production with regard to working hours, wages and employee benefits, health and safety as well as community engagement. We support them in developing and implementing measures to improve their performance.
Microplastics are the Achilles’ heel of the outdoor and textile sector: as an industry, we are part of the global microplastics problem and one of the contributors to the contamination of the environment and our waters. The washing of synthetic textiles is responsible for approx. one third of the microplastics released into the environment, the disposal of clothes that are no longer worn, e.g. at landfill sites, accounts for another significant proportion. This is not sustainable.
As a pioneer in the field of green functional textiles, we want to be one of the first in the industry to earnestly and quickly address this issue. We are committed to implementing a global system for textile recycling, similar to glass recycling. The purer these used textiles are (i.e. mono-materials), the better they can be recycled. By producing our membranes and laminates from an increasingly higher percentage of recycled materials, we are already preventing used textiles from ending up in landfill or incineration plants and instead giving them a second life. By laminating our membrane, we can also reduce the microplastic fibres that are released by 50% compared to non-laminated textile materials.
Sympatex participates in various partnerships with NGOs and research institutes in order to get a better understanding of the source of microplastics in the textile industry and to develop solutions. We cooperate with The Microfibre Consortium, Plastic Soup Foundation, PlanetCare, the Italian institute IPCB-CNR and the Plastic Leak Project, an initiative led by the consultancy firm Quantis and EA. Thanks to close collaboration with our partners, we can incorporate the latest scientific research into our product development and therefore continue to optimise our membranes and laminates.
Recycling and avoiding waste
Recyclable products are a key part of fulfilling our responsibility to the future. From today’s perspective, the most important consideration is the purity of the material. The raw material for all our membranes and laminates is 100% polyester (PES) and can be recycled just like a PET bottle. Polyester is the only plastic in the functional textile industry that can be efficiently recycled and it also has the lowest environmental footprint thanks to low water, chemical and CO2 consumption.
In the past, offcuts from the production of our membranes were often disposed of as waste. We have succeeded in changing this and now return the production waste back into the loop to produce more textiles. The result: we use approx. 15% less new material in the production of our membrane and therefore save energy.
Products made from unmixed materials are much easier to recycle. That’s why we laminate our polyester membrane using recycled outer and lining materials that are also made of polyester. This mono-material combination is ideal for returning textiles to the closed textile recycling loop at the end of their product life cycle. Most of the raw material that we use for our primary material currently stems from recycled PET bottles, by 2030 we will get 100% of the recycled polyester from the circular fibre2fibre textile loop, i.e. from used textiles.
In contrast to membranes from other manufacturers, Sympatex membranes have a big advantage – they are non-porous. Products manufactured with Sympatex laminates therefore have very long life cycles when properly taken care of. Because it is non-porous, the membrane doesn’t clog due to residues from washing detergents or other substances (e.g. creams or sweat). On the contrary, products with Sympatex membranes reach their maximum breathability after one or two 40°C washing cycles. The dynamic breathability of our membrane (the more you move, the better the membrane “breathes”) is therefore a signature of top quality and longevity.
Furthermore, Sympatex membranes and laminates, as well as certified Sympatex partner products, undergo extensive testing before they are used by our brand partners. Apart from waterproof, windproof and breathability testing, the materials are also inspected for abrasion resistance (important when carrying a backpack for instance) and durability. Our membranes and laminates are therefore an ideal choice for heavily used textiles designed to last for years.