The sustainability of digital printing on fabric, a question of values and enabling technologies

The topic of sustainability is increasingly associated with the development and widespread use of digital technologies. This approach is based on two important pillars. First of all, although sustainable development lays the foundations for balancing the needs of current generations with those of future generations, it focuses on innovation, research and the implementation of solutions that can bring about the sustainable management of resources and energy, the mitigation of environmental impact and the reduction of harmful environmental outputs such as emissions and waste.

Secondly, there can be no control of environmental impact without measuring and monitoring production and logistics flows and without fully exploiting the potential of the connectivity between machines to efficiently manage processes, optimise resources and consumption, and reduce waste and emissions.

It is no surprise that the European Union's Green New Deal and the Italian PNRR (piano nazionale di ripresa e resilienza, the Italian government's national reform programme) see the connection between green investments and digitisation as the condition for a transition towards more sustainable economic models.

Inkjet printing is not just a technology, but a design and production approach that can help reduce the environmental impact of a fashion or design item. Since it was first introduced on the market in the early 2000s, digital printing has been a true technological innovation in the textile sector, anticipating ways of connecting technologies that are today at the centre of reflections on Industry 4.0.

In fact, research activities carried out reveal potential development trends, also from a sustainable point of view. Originally developed to meet the requests for speeding up the processes involved in the creation of fashion products, digital printing soon developed into a production model characterised by flexibility, versatility and a favourable time to market.

The first element to consider is the significant advantage of being able to produce what is needed in the quantities needed and with the variables required, without waste and production lots sitting in the warehouse waiting for a buyer.

But how much does digital printing contribute to reducing the environmental impact of textile processing? Water and energy savings, avoided waste, and the reduction of contaminants in wastewater make digital printing an important resource in the development of a more environmentally friendly production and economic system (emissions into the water – 60%, water consumption – 69%, energy savings up to 80%, Carbon Footprint reduction 40%; source: Heimtextil Study 2016).

Taken in part from Digital printing for sustainable fashion, 2020