Johann Mueller AG has the distinction of being one of the first companies to develop a product based on the Cradle to Cradle design philosophy—way back in 1995. But their history as an innovative company goes back much further than that. Founded in 1845 in Switzerland, by 1899 the company’s finished textiles and mercerized cotton yarns (some of the first) were being exported to British India, South-east Asia, the Philippines and Turkey.
Throughout the twentieth century and through two world wars, Mueller continued to grow and to lead the textile industry, and in the 1970s and ‘80s, acquired a number of smaller companies. In the 1990s, company leaders recognized that future innovation would include keeping people and planetary health at the forefront of the business.
The Cradle to Cradle inspired Climatex fabric launched in 1995 (made with their partner Rohner Textil and Cradle to Cradle Certified™ Gold in 2008 by Gessner). Gessner innovated Dualcycle later on. A true pioneer, the company has continued to improve the sustainability of its products over the decades following that first certification - Climatex was just the beginning.
Mueller specializes in bleaching, dyeing and finishing yarns, jersey, terry and garments from all types of dyeable materials. They have the capacity to dye over 44,000 pounds of textiles a day, and at that volume, their engineers realized that saving energy means saving money. And since 50-70% of CO2 emissions from textiles are emitted during the finishing process, Mueller was in the best position to cut carbon too.
To that end, in 2001, Mueller’s chemical engineer converted the company’s heating systems to burn renewable energy, saving 1,000 tons of heating oil a year—which means about 3,200 tons less CO2 makes its way into the environment yearly. The company was recognized for this innovation in 2002: they won the Swiss Solarprice Environmental Award that year. Not only has the company reduced costs and reduced their environmental impact—they are well set up for the future.
“For companies throughout the textile chain which have made early, intensive efforts for sustainability, there are now real competitive advantages from those measures,” says Dr. Markus Mueller, the CEO of the company. The company is already looking at ways to make part of their range entirely carbon-neutral, meeting with suppliers to figure out what’s needed to achieve that goal. “We are in a good position, as we’ve already done our homework,” says Dr. Mueller.
In addition to reducing the impact of several systems within their factory, and creating low-impact fabric finishing processes, Mueller turned its focus to what holds those textiles together: sewing thread. Common polyester threads, which are widely used in the industry, aren’t biodegradable but are very strong, which is important for durability. After looking at a number of natural and human-made threads, they decided to work with Tencel®, made from cellulose. This thread is very strong, widely available, easy to spin and 100% biodegradable: Natura sewing yarns, which can be dyed to any shade, were Cradle to Cradle Certified at the GOLD level in 2015.
Now, companies looking to make a finished product that’s entirely biodegradable will be able to do so, using both fabrics and yarn that will break down over time, becoming part of the biological cycle.