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Life Cycle Assessment

The Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is a tool used to ascertain the environmental impact of a product, process or activity throughout its life cycle – from the extraction of raw materials through to processing, transport, use and disposal with an ultimate goal of developing sustainable policies and programs.


    In order to build on the first LCA conducted by Gildan in 2010, in 2013, we commenced the process of conducting a Company-wide life cycle assessment of Gildan’s products. In 2014, not only did we complete this assessment, we also completed product life cycle assessments for 24 products. Once again, this analysis was conducted with the assistance of an independent third party specialist that provides businesses and governments with tools, guidance and knowledge for pursuing more sustainable practices by mastering their life cycle and reducing their environmental impact.

    The first phase of this assessment consisted of measuring Gildan’s overall footprint linked to its operational activities and supply chain management through the use of a multi-indicator approach, including the measurement of greenhouse gas emissions, water resources, etc. The second phase of this LCA involved allocating our Company-wide results to the respective product lines for comparison, in order to identify best practices and determine which product lines could most be improved through eco-design. The data collected for this first and second phase pertained to the 2012 year.

    As a third phase, Gildan also conducted the aforementioned phases for the 2013 and 2014 years, thus providing three years of data for comparison and benchmarking.

    The Company-wide LCA allowed us to compare our manufacturing facilities efficiencies and identify the least performing ones. This will help the Company develop programs to improve the efficiencies of the targeted facilities. The study also confirmed that the main environmental impact hotspots over the life cycle of our apparel products was the after-use phase (mainly washing of garments) followed by cotton production (use of pesticides and fertilizers, as well as land occupation). Third highest in environmental impact was the production phase, stemming from the fact that electricity production in the United States and Honduras comes from either coal or oil.

    Several conclusions resulted from this assessment:

    1. While the overall impacts are increasing over the years, the relative contributions of the different life cycle stages remain constant. The raw material supplies and the production stages have the most impacts across all indicators. However, the production phase decreased its footprint (for the climate change and resources indicators) over the years, mainly due to the reduction of electricity and fuel consumption per kg of production. The implementation of biomass steam generation at the Rio Nance complex facilities is the main project which contributed to this decrease over time.
    2. Water use by textile facilities also decreased over time as a result of investment in more water efficient dyeing equipment.
    3. Cotton use impacts are increasing over time. As a vertically-integrated manufacturer, Gildan is able to influence or control impacts in almost all areas of its supply chain except for cotton production. However, the vast majority of the cotton used by Gildan comes from the United States, where sustainable agricultural methods are increasingly used and thus we are expecting a positive spillover effect on our own environmental performance.

    In addition, in 2014, Gildan also contributed to the Sustainable Apparel Coalition’s pilot for testing the Product Category Rule (PCR) for a T-shirt LCA. The Gildan style 2000 T-shirt was selected to test this pilot and an Environmental Product Declaration (EPD) was produced in accordance with the PCR guidelines. The pilot included a number of companies which are member of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, and the results have been used by the organization to refine the PCR as well as integrating this informationto the organization’s Higg Index, an indicator based assessment tool for apparel and footwear products.

    In addition to measuring the environmental impacts of the individual product assessed, the product LCAs also help compare the environmental performance of similar products, which contributes to a better understanding of ways to achieve improved performance. The main conclusions of the product LCAs include:

    1. The environmental impacts are directly related to the performance of the facilities in which the products are produced since there were no changes in the apparel designs between the years assessed.
    2. The mass of a product also has a direct impact on the product environmental impacts. The increased use of fabric for a specific style results in higher impacts from the greater use of raw materials, which come mainly from cotton cultivation.
    3. The products assessed either had a similar or lower impact for climate change and resources indicators in 2014 compared to 2012. This impact reduction is mainly due to the fact that the facilities in which the products were manufacturing had a better performance in terms of sustainability.

  • Gildan’s First Step into LCA's

    In 2010, Gildan partnered with an independent third party specialist to conduct its first LCA. The goal of this exercise was to identify the most significant environmental impact stemming from the manufacture of an average size white Style 2000 T-shirt made with 100% U.S. cotton, assembled in Central America and sold in the United States. The LCA enabled us to identify and quantify the environmental impact of the “hotspots” (i.e. most significant contributors) over the entire life cycle — from agriculture to manufacturing and customer use to final disposal.

    The LCA showed that, due primarily to electricity generation for washing and drying, the “product use” phase is the main contributor to overall environmental impact on human health, climate change, and resource depletion. Excluding the product use phase, the biggest impact on the quality of an ecosystem stems from the cotton fibre agricultural production, primarily land use, water consumption and emissions related to fertilizers.

    Land occupation measures the reduction of biodiversity caused by land use. Agriculture, and more specifically, cotton fibre agricultural production in Gildan’s case, is the main contributor to this category. Water consumption, mainly linked to field irrigation, and fertilizers used during cotton cultivation, both generate extensive greenhouse gas emissions (CO2 and N2O).

    Gildan mostly mitigates this impact by sourcing the vast majority of the cotton used in its own manufacturing sites from the United
    States, where cotton is grown and harvested using conservation agricultural practices such as integrated pest management, conservation tillage and water efficiency methods, which lower the environmental impact as compared to more conventional agriculture methods. Moreover, as with all U.S. agricultural crops, cotton falls under the monitoring of the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Cotton farmers are constantly monitored against stringent regulations for chemical application concentrations and frequency.

    During the manufacturing phase, the largest impact relates to energy consumption, particularly during the dyeing and bleaching processes. Over the past years, we have been able to reduce this impact by investing in renewable energy sources, such as biomass. Water consumption and waste represent challenging factors within the manufacturing process. As such, Gildan has initiated a fibre and corrugated recycling program as well as reduced its customer packaging. Lastly, Gildan is committed to resource-efficiency in the design and manufacture of its products with a goal of reducing water and energy consumption.

    This information strongly validated our own understanding and approach to mitigating key impacts. This is especially true for the areas in our supply chain and manufacturing process which we control directly or are able to influence.

  • What is an LCA?

    The Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is a tool used to ascertain the environmental impact of a product, process or activity throughout its life cycle – from the extraction of raw materials through to processing, transport, use and disposal with an ultimate goal of developing sustainable policies and programs.

    The Life Cycle Assessment evaluates dimensions such as human health, ecosystem quality, resource consumption, climate change, and water consumption. The information gained from LCA allows for a better understanding of processes and impacts, validates improvements to processes or products and identifies new ones, manages current risks and anticipates future needs (e.g. market or regulatory).

    The LCA is a rigorous and holistic method for which ISO 14040:2006 describes the principles and framework towards the assessment of the environmental impact of a product or activity (a system of products) over its entire life cycle. The LCA consists of four distinct phases:

    • Goals and scope definition (study model which defines the methodological framework which all other LCA phases must comply with)
    • Inventory of all the inputs and outputs related to the product system
    • Assessment of the potential impacts associated with these inputs and outputs
    • Interpretation of the inventory data and impact assessment results related to the goal and scope of the study