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A consortium of manufacturing and retail giants, non-governmental organizations, academic experts, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency are banding together to reduce the social and environmental impacts of apparel and footwear products sold worldwide. The Sustainable Apparel Coalition, announced today, comprises bold-face names such as Adidas, Esprit, Gap, H&M, Levi Strauss, Nike, Marks & Spencer, Patagonia, Timberland, Target, and Walmart. Altruism aside, the organization seeks to address the industry’s sustainability challenges as both a “business imperative and an opportunity,” according to a press release.
Although the group has been working informally since early 2010, the Sustainable Apparel Coalition is now ready to beta-test a draft version of an apparel and footwear sustainability index. Based on different efforts to measure and track apparel sustainability, including the Outdoor Industry Association “Eco Index” and Nike’s “Environmental Apparel Design” tools, the metrics will be fully transparent to encourage its broad adoption globally.
The Sustainable Apparel Coalition is beta-testing a draft version of an apparel and footwear sustainability index.
“The largest and most influential corporations in apparel and footwear have voluntarily engaged in this collective effort because they recognize the opportunity to measure and manage the environmental and social impacts of their products,” says Rick Ridgeway, coalition chair and vice president of environmental programs at Patagonia. “More importantly, they recognize the threat to the planet and its inhabitants by continuing the model of ‘business as usual.’”
Version 1.0 of the Apparel Index, an “indicator”-based tool that will evolve into a metrics-based one, allows companies to evaluate their product’s entire life cycle, including materials, manufacturing, packaging, transportation, use, and disposal. Besides environmental impact categories such as energy and water use, waste, and air emissions, the index also includes social and labor indicators, as well as guidelines and resources for improving performance at every stage.
While the index is designed as a B2B tool, the coalition recognizes the need for a consumer-friendly scoring system.
A work in progress, the index will evolve to include more supply-chain-specific quantitative data to deliver a “truly comprehensive product footprint score,” says the coalition.
While the index is designed as a business-to-business-level tool for internal decision-making, the group is aware of the demand for a consumer-friendly scoring system or a common label in the vein of Energy Star. Because of the complexity of arriving at a single numeric score, along with the short-term priority of driving improvement in the global apparel industry, “no timetable has been set for [the] development of a consumer-facing label,” the organization notes.
Environmental Defense Fund
Levi Strauss & Co.
Li & Fung
Marks & Spencer
Mountain Equipment Co-op
Outdoor Industry Association
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency