Their annual Hot Button Ranking is a well-established tool used in the global textile and fashion industries to assess the sustainability of wood-based textile fibers.
Metsä Group’s Kuura textile fiber has achieved high scores based on the Hot Button Ranking evaluation arranged by the Canadian not-for-profit environmental organization Canopy (see “MI Demo”, which is the subsidiary that owns and operates the Kuura demo plant in Äänekoski, Finland). The Kuura textile fiber, made out of softwood pulp from the Äänekoski bioproduct mill, was awarded for the third consecutive year with a ‘Green Shirt’ rating, the requirements of which are a risk-free, transparent supply chain and traceable raw materials. In terms of environmental sustainability, leading brand owners exclusively source fiber from ‘Green Shirt’ producers.
The textile fiber market is expected to grow from approximately US$42 billion in 2022 up to US$66 billion by 2030. Metsä Group’s Kuura concept is based on a vision to offer the global textile and non-woven industries a new textile fiber with a significantly reduced environmental footprint. The ongoing R&D-focused phase for developing the Kuura concept is a joint effort of ITOCHU Textile Company, a part of Japanese trading giant ITOCHU Corporation, and Metsä Group’s innovation company Metsä Spring. With the collaboration, Kuura has already been utilized in creating fashionable and sustainable outfits like jackets and shirts, as well as in cutting-edge artwork that promotes the future of sustainable fibers.
“The Hot Button Ranking criteria have been made stricter every year. The fact that our operations were evaluated as worthy of the Green Shirt level for a third consecutive time shows that we have also moved forward in sustainability matters. Kuura is still in the research and development phase, which involves testing and developing the production process at the demo plant and assessing the market interest in the new fiber. However, we are already attracting interest from some of the world’s largest and leading sustainable fashion houses, which reinforces the notion that we are on the right track with Kuura,” says CEO of Metsä Spring Niklas von Weymarn.
The Kuura textile fiber has also been evaluated by neutral expert organizations using the ISO standardized Life Cycle Assessment (LCA). The LCA is a method to measure and assess the environmental (and societal) impacts of any product. In the conducted assessments, it was determined that the large-scale production of Kuura would emit lower greenhouse gas levels compared to currently commercially available bio-based textile fibers and polyester fibers. Hence, in the so-called Global Warming Potential category, Kuura ranked as best in class, mainly thanks to its production being integrated into the unit producing pulp. This, in turn, makes the total energy requirement to make Kuura fibers very favorable. Moreover, all energy utilized in producing the Kuura fiber would be renewable.
Additionally, the Kuura textile fiber is also perfectly suited to the EU’s plans to bring forward regulation related to the circular economy of textiles, as the fiber is essentially unmodified cellulose fibers produced by nature. This means that Kuura is 100% recyclable and naturally biodegradable. Compared to cotton fibers, the production of wood-based textile fibers, especially when made using wood from Nordic forests, does not compete with food production, and does not require irrigation water, fertilizers, or pesticides.
“What also makes Kuura special is the backward traceability, which, in turn, takes us back to the over 90,000 Finnish forest owners that are owner-members of the parent company behind Metsä Group. All the wood used for Kuura (in practice pine and spruce) would be procured within a 100-km radius from the entity comprising the bioproduct mill and the Kuura mill,” von Weymarn says.
While proceeding with the Kuura test production in the EUR 40 million demo plant located in Äänekoski, Metsä Spring is simultaneously developing the technical concept of a possible first commercial textile fiber mill. In Metsä Group’s concept, the Kuura mill would be integrated into a modern bioproduct mill to maximize the industrial efficiency of textile fiber production.