How chemistry in the textile industry can become truly greener

An interview with Dr. Jean Pierre Haug, COO of TESTEX

Chemicals are fundamental for almost all production processes of a leather or textile product. Handling chemicals with care protects human health and the environment. Taking responsibility for proper chemical management and using greener chemistry mitigates the risk for facility workers, preserves the health of end consumers and fights climate change. Further, it protects biodiversity, the oceans and contributes to clean drinking water. The use of greener chemistry seems to be a rational next step for each party in our industry – but what is Green Chemistry? 

Dr. Jean Pierre Haug, COO of TESTEX and member of the OEKO-TEX® International Advisory Board, shares insights from his over 30 years’ experience, what Green Chemistry means and how we ensure trust in the textile and leather industry.  

OEKO-TEX®: What is Green Chemistry? 

Dr. Jean Pierre Haug: The term Green Chemistry is not new. The term and its content can be summarized with the short sentence: “Use in chemistry the principles that nature has been using forever.” The Environmental Protection Agency developed 12 principles which demonstrate the concept of Green Chemistry. 


N° Key Word Information 
1Waste prevention Design chemicals which leave no waste to treat or clean up. 
2Atom economy The final chemical product contains the maximum proportion of the starting materials. Waste few or no atoms. 
3Design less hazardous chemical syntheses Produce chemicals with little or no toxicity to human health or the environment. 
4Design safer chemicals and products Design chemical products that are fully effective yet have little or no toxicity. 
5Use safer solvents and reaction conditions Avoid using solvents, separation agents, or other auxiliary chemicals. If you must use, use safer ones. 
6Increase energy efficiency Run chemical reactions at room temperature and pressure. 
7Use renewable feedstocks Use starting materials (also known as feedstocks) that are renewable. The source of renewable feedstocks is often agricultural products or the wastes of other processes. 
8Avoid chemical derivatives Derivatives require additional reaction steps and reagents which usually generates more waste. Try to avoid them. 
9Use catalysts in synthesis Minimize waste by using catalytic reactions. 
10Design chemicals for degradation Design chemical products to break down to innocuous substances after use so that they do not accumulate in the environment. 
11Use on-line monitoring in the synthesis of chemicals Include real-time monitoring and control during syntheses to minimize the formation of undesired chemicals. 
12Minimize the potential for accidents Minimize the potential for chemical accidents including explosions, fires, and releases to the environment. 

One often hears sustainability and Green Chemistry used interchangeably. Is there a difference?

Green Chemistry and sustainability are not equivalent and not directly interchangeable. Sustainability considers the effects of a given system on the social, ecological, and economic environment with the ultimate goal of creating a system that is never ending – it becomes self-sustaining.  

The term sustainability is not focused on a specific sector whereas Green Chemistry is focused on the chemical industry and also to the appliance of chemicals in other sectors. On the other hand, within the principles of Green Chemistry the social or human element does not have the same weight as in sustainability.  

Green Chemistry plays an important role in increasing sustainability in the textile and leather industry. The concept enables people working with or producing chemicals to take responsibility for their actions. 

How can Green Chemistry be applied in the textile and leather industry? 

The textile industry is one of the largest industrial sectors in the world. This power can allow us to influence other industries, such as the chemical industry, in a positive way and may support them to further integrate the principle of Green Chemistry in their industry. 

However, the application of chemicals, and here the textile and leather industry comes into play, might be judged according to the principles of Green Chemistry. For example: 

  • use the most direct way using energy most efficient way to achieve a certain effect (Principle 6) 

  • use chemicals and auxiliaries which are less hazardous and most safe (Principle 3 & 4) 

  • prevent waste (production waste, wastewater, emissions to air incl. exhaust air) (Principle 1) 

OEKO-TEX® ECO PASSPORT certification gives scientific guidance from experts. Chemicals and treatments that meet this standard have been tested and analysed against strict criteria, for a lower environmental impact. By deploying Greener Chemistry, it supports cleaner, safer products and production. 

What kind of change would you deem most important for the textile industry? 

The textile and leather industry needs to be recognized as a vital client of Green Chemistry with a major impact on the final product and associated effects on the environment based on the use of chemicals. Therefore, a proper chemical management system must be introduced at the facilities.  

It’s advantageous if the people responsible for chemical management at facility level are well aware of the principles of Green Chemistry.  Our facility certification OEKO-TEX® STeP, which recently passed the milestone of 1000 certified facilities, verifies this interaction in the module “Chemical Management”. 

Additionally, ECO PASSPORT is an excellent way to demonstrate that certified chemicals cover elements of Green Chemistry, predominantly focused on hazardous effects on the final product and associated emissions to the environment.