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  • Writer's pictureK S Deepak

Cotton or Polyester T-shirts: Who is ahead in the race towards sustainability?

Updated: Jul 4, 2022

Sustainability is based on 3 pillars: social (SF), economic (ECF) and environmental factors (ENF). The social pillar of a product is often ignored and the economic and environmental pillars are made the focal points of discussion [1].

Product sustainability=0.3×(SF)+0.3×(EnF)+0.4 ×(EcF)

Methodology for assessing SFs


  1. Capturing interlinked social factors is difficult and industry specific [2].

  2. The weightage provided to KPIs of SFs is not based on an empirical formula rather subjective interpretation of their relative importance [8]

  3. The supply chain is pivotal in understanding the sustainability but is industry specific [6].

Methodology for assessing EnFs and EcFs [9]–[12]



  • The Volume/ weight of material has a say on the sustainability of a product owing to its correlation with the energy consumption and production complexity [5]. But for the sake of generalizability, calculation of this parameter has been omitted.


  • Design stage of a product has dependence on a product’s stability and can vary depending upon a specific case [13]. Here, for the sake of generalizability this stage has been neglected.

  • The equitable distribution is also considered while assessing sustainability but has been omitted.


  • The KPIs like Use-time/ life-time and reliability are subjective in nature and assigning quantitative values to qualitative parameters should depend on a coefficient based on case studies for a particular product, which has been omitted for the ease of calculation [14].

  • The maintenance of a product may vary depending upon the material composition like:

    1. Rapid dry type

    2. Type of wash (machine wash, hand wash)

    3. Discolouration frequency

    4. Sturdiness (ability to avoid the need for ironing)

    5. Choice of colour and texture etc.

Hence, for the sake of generalizability they have been omitted

End of Life

  • The ability of a product to achieve 3Rs (reuse, repair and remanufacture) depends on the cost associated and the product demand-supply nexus and for the ease of calculation such complexities has not been taken into consideration [15].


PS={[0.3×∑SF+0.7×∑ (EnF & EcF) ]÷2.03}×10



[1] CSCMP, “A quick way to measure sustainability,” CSCMP’s Supply Chain Quarterly.

[2] Q. Wang, Q. Yang, and M. Chang, “Measuring Sustainability Performance in the Product Level,” doi: 10.5220/0010301102410247.

[3] L. Handley, “Polyester is one of the biggest polluters in fashion — here’s what one CEO wants to do about it,” CNBC, 2021.

[4] V. Voora, C. Larrea, S. Bermudez, and S. Baliño, “Global Market Report: Cotton SUSTAINABLE COMMODITIES MARKETPLACE SERIES 2019.”

[5] T. Le, J. Engel, G. M.- Anaheim, C. I. and Systems, and undefined 2016, “Measuring Product Sustainability: A Literature Review,”, Accessed: Mar. 20, 2022. [Online]. Available:

[6] S. Radhakrishnan, “Roadmap to Sustainable Textiles and Clothing,” pp. 41–62, 2014, doi: 10.1007/978-981-287-065-0.

[7] “Product sustainability scorecard: Improving the sustainability performance of every new customer product,” Liberty Global Product Sustainability scorecard. (accessed Mar. 20, 2022).

[8] J. Fiksel, J. Mcdaniel, and D. Spitzley, “Measuring Product Sustainability,” 1998.

[9] J. Han, P. Jiang, P. C.- Energies, and undefined 2021, “Metrics for measuring sustainable product design concepts,”, Accessed: Mar. 20, 2022. [Online]. Available:

[10] “The Higg Index - Sustainable Apparel Coalition.” (accessed Mar. 20, 2022).

[11] “Sustainable Apparel Coalition and Higg launch transparency program,” Sustainable Apparel Coalition. (accessed Mar. 20, 2022).

[12] M. Mashiur, R. Khan, and M. Islam, “Materials and manufacturing environmental sustainability evaluation of apparel product: knitted T-shirt case study,” Text. Cloth. Sustain. 2015 11, vol. 1, no. 1, pp. 1–12, Jul. 2015, doi: 10.1186/S40689-015-0008-8.

[13] J. Schulte and S. I. Hallstedt, “Self-Assessment Method for Sustainability Implementation in Product Innovation,” Sustain. 2018, Vol. 10, Page 4336, vol. 10, no. 12, p. 4336, Nov. 2018, doi: 10.3390/SU10124336.

[14] J. Solís-Guzmán, C. Rivero-Camacho, D. Alba-Rodríguez, and A. Martínez-Rocamora, “Carbon Footprint Estimation Tool for Residential Buildings for Non-Specialized Users: OERCO2 Project,” Sustain. 2018, Vol. 10, Page 1359, vol. 10, no. 5, p. 1359, Apr. 2018, doi: 10.3390/SU10051359.

[15] J. Fiksel, “Measuring sustainability in ecodesign,” Sustain. Solut. Dev. Prod. Serv. Futur., pp. 165–187, Jan. 2017, doi: 10.4324/9781351282482-10/MEASURING-SUSTAINABILITY-ECODESIGN-JOSEPH-FIKSEL.

[16] “Lifecycle Assessments. How do we measure the sustainability of a product? - Re-Pal.” (accessed Mar. 20, 2022).

[17] C. Palacios-Mateo, Y. van der Meer, and G. Seide, “Analysis of the polyester clothing value chain to identify key intervention points for sustainability,” Environ. Sci. Eur. 2021 331, vol. 33, no. 1, pp. 1–25, Jan. 2021, doi: 10.1186/S12302-020-00447-X.

[18] M. Elven, “How sustainable is recycled polyester?,” Fashion United, 2018.

[19] S. Bermúdez and D. Perri, “Sustainable Cotton or Recycled Polyester? The conscious shopper’s dilemma,” International Institute for Sustainable Development, 2020.

[20] A. Activist, “Sustainable fashion: Polyester vs cotton,” FIBRE2FASHION.COM, 2022.

[21] Treasure, “T-Shirt Horror: Cotton vs Polyester Tees And Enviromental Impact | Treasure Box,” Treasure Box, 20AD.

[22] “What is Polyester? (& its sustainable alternatives) — Sustainably Chic.” (accessed Mar. 20, 2022).

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