Published Apr 21, 2024 ⦁ 10 min read
T Shirt Fulfillment: Sustainability Practices

T Shirt Fulfillment: Sustainability Practices

Making t-shirt businesses eco-friendly is crucial for both the environment and the brand's image. This article explores the environmental impact of traditional t-shirt fulfillment, including water consumption, chemical pollution, carbon emissions, and textile waste. It offers practical steps for adopting sustainable practices, such as sourcing sustainable materials, eco-friendly production methods, responsible packaging, ethical labor standards, and waste reduction. Highlighting case studies from companies like Recover and Known Supply, it demonstrates the feasibility and benefits of sustainable t-shirt fulfillment. Here's a quick overview:

  • Environmental Impact of T-Shirt Fulfillment: High water usage, chemical pollution, carbon emissions, textile waste.
  • Sustainable Practices: Use of organic or recycled materials, water-saving production methods, eco-friendly packaging, ethical labor practices, and recycling programs.
  • Benefits: Reduces environmental harm, saves resources, and enhances brand reputation.
  • Case Studies: Recover and Known Supply show successful implementation of these practices.

The transition to sustainable methods is not just beneficial for the planet but also for the business, contributing to a positive brand image and customer loyalty.

Water Consumption

Growing cotton for t-shirts uses a lot of water. To make just one t-shirt, it can take as much water as you'd use in 5 years of drinking. The fashion world uses so much water every year that it's putting a lot of pressure on our planet's water supply.

Farming cotton the usual way uses methods and chemicals that can pollute rivers and lakes. Making textiles also needs lots of water for dyeing and finishing processes. As we face more water shortages, it's important for clothing makers to use less water.

Chemical Pollution

The process of growing cotton and making clothes releases harmful chemicals into the environment. Fertilizers and pesticides used in cotton fields can end up in our water. Making a single t-shirt needs a lot of these chemicals.

The process of dyeing and finishing clothes also creates waste that can pollute water. In many places, this waste isn't cleaned up properly, hurting water life and people's health. Using safer chemicals and cleaning up waste water is really important.

Carbon Emissions

Making clothes from start to finish releases a lot of carbon dioxide, a gas that contributes to global warming. The whole process—from growing cotton, making the fabric, to shipping clothes around the world—creates more pollution than all the planes and ships traveling internationally.

Just growing cotton can be as bad for the air as some small countries. And every step of making and moving t-shirts adds more pollution. Using clean energy and making the process more efficient can help reduce this problem.

Textile Waste

Every minute, a huge amount of clothes ends up being thrown away or burned. Fast fashion and the difficulty of recycling clothes mean a lot of t-shirts are wasted. Each year, tons of clothes are tossed out because they're not sold or they're not perfect.

Very little of the material used in clothes gets made into new items. This means a lot of waste ends up in landfills. Finding better ways to recycle and making clothes that last longer can help solve this issue.

Implementing Sustainable Practices

Sustainability should be at the heart of any t-shirt business wanting to do better for the environment. Here's how to make your operations more eco-friendly:

Sourcing Sustainable Materials

  • Choose materials like organic cotton, hemp, and bamboo. They're better for the planet.
  • Use recycled polyester from plastic bottles to help reduce waste.
  • Work with suppliers who care about the environment as much as you do.

Adopting Eco-Friendly Production Methods

  • Pick water-based inks and dyes because they're less harmful.
  • Use machines that don't need as much electricity and try to use clean energy.
  • Save water by fixing leaks and reusing water when you can.

Responsible Packaging and Delivery

  • Use packaging that can break down naturally instead of plastic that stays in the environment.
  • Help make up for the pollution from shipping by investing in projects that reduce carbon emissions.
  • Use just the right amount of packaging for each order to avoid waste.

Ethical Labor Standards

  • Make sure workers get paid well and work in safe conditions.
  • Check on your partners regularly to make sure they're treating workers right.
  • Stick with manufacturers who are good to their workers instead of always going for the cheapest option.

Waste Reduction and Recycling

  • Make t-shirts only when there's a demand to avoid making too many.
  • Find new uses for leftover fabric and misprints or give them to charity.
  • Start programs to take back old t-shirts and turn them into something new or recycle them. Keep them out of landfills.

Case Studies and Examples

Companies like Recover are showing us that making t-shirts in a way that's good for the planet is totally doable.


Recover takes leftover cotton from factories and turns it into new cotton fiber. This helps save a lot of water and keeps waste out of the trash.

Here's what they've done:

  • Turned over 10 million pounds of old cotton into new since 2017
  • Saved more than 713 million gallons of water every year when compared to using new cotton
  • Worked with big names like Levi's, Target, and The North Face

Recover proves that you can have an eco-friendly setup for making t-shirts. They make recycled cotton that's good enough for big brands to use.

Known Supply

Known Supply makes eco-friendly tees to order, so they never make too many. Their way of doing things saves:

  • 95% less water - they dye shirts without using water
  • 91% less CO2 emissions - they use clean energy and balance out their carbon footprint
  • 93% less waste - they pack shirts in recycled or natural materials that break down easily

Instead of guessing how many shirts to make, they use technology to print shirts on demand. This means they only make shirts when someone wants to buy one, which is way better for the environment than making a bunch in advance.

Known Supply works with brands that care about the planet, helping them offer sustainable shirts to their fans. This helps cut down on waste by only making shirts that people actually want.


The stories of Recover and Known Supply show us that making t-shirts in a way that's better for the earth is possible:

  • Recycled Materials - Companies like Recover are making great recycled fabric that people actually want to buy.
  • On-Demand Fulfillment - Printing shirts as they're ordered, like Known Supply does, means less waste.
  • Partnerships - Working together with brands that want to do good can make a big difference.

With some smart thinking and dedication, clothes companies can find ways to make and send out t-shirts without hurting the planet. These examples give us some good ideas on how to do it.


Key Takeaways

Making t-shirt businesses more earth-friendly is really important. Here’s what we’ve learned:

  • Making t-shirts the usual way is bad for the planet - The way we usually make and send out t-shirts uses a lot of water and energy, and creates pollution. We need to find better ways to do things.
  • Using smarter methods helps the environment - There are better options out there, like using materials that are easier on the earth, printing shirts only when someone orders them, using packaging that doesn’t harm the environment, and making sure people who make the shirts work in good conditions.
  • Working together makes a bigger difference - When brands that care about the planet work with experts in making things more sustainable, they can do a lot more good.
  • New technology makes it easier to be responsible - Thanks to new ways of doing things, companies can avoid making too much stock that might go to waste. This is called inventory-free dropshipping or making custom products on-demand.
  • People want to buy from responsible brands - More and more, shoppers like to support businesses that care about the environment. So, it’s not just good for the earth; it’s good for business too.
  • It’s better when everyone works together - To really make a big change in how much the apparel industry affects the planet, all kinds of brands need to work together to use greener ways from start to finish.

The stories of Recover and Known Supply show us that it’s totally possible to make and sell t-shirts without hurting the planet too much. T-shirt companies can use smart ways to make less waste and pollution while still making money. By making caring for the planet a big part of their business, the clothing industry can change for the better while giving people what they want. The tools, knowledge, and partners are out there – now is the time to use them.

How are sustainable t shirts made?

Sustainable T-shirts come from materials that are better for the environment, like organic cotton, which doesn't use harmful chemicals. They also:

  • Use materials that have been recycled, like turning old plastic bottles into polyester
  • Dye fabrics in a way that uses less water and recycles it
  • Power production with clean energy, like wind or solar
  • Make sure everyone making the shirts is treated and paid fairly

This way, companies make T-shirts that are kinder to the planet and the people making them.

How can I be more ecologically friendly when buying clothes?

To shop more sustainably, you can:

  • Buy used or vintage clothes to cut down on waste
  • Choose quality over quantity to avoid fast fashion
  • Support brands focused on being eco-friendly and ethical
  • Wash clothes in cold water and hang them to dry
  • Give away or recycle clothes instead of throwing them away

Picking durable clothes, caring for them properly, and supporting the right brands can help you have a more sustainable closet.

How can a clothing brand be sustainable?

Brands can be more sustainable by:

  • Choosing materials that are organic, recycled, or regenerative
  • Using production methods that save water and energy and cut down on waste
  • Making sure workers are treated well
  • Teaching customers about how to be more eco-friendly
  • Balancing out their carbon footprint from making and shipping products
  • Working with other companies that also want to be sustainable

By doing these things, brands can have a positive impact on both the environment and society.

Is Printful ethical?

Right now, Printful could do better in being ethical. While it uses some eco-friendly materials, it's not very open about how it treats workers and still uses a lot of regular cotton. If Printful focused more on using organic materials, ensuring safe work conditions, and being more transparent, it could be more sustainable.

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