Thursday, 12 April 2012

Green is the new black

The Sustainable Apparel Coalition leads the clothing industry towards improved sustainability strategies. 

by Peter Bjerregaard 

Photo courtesy of H&M.

Behind the production of designer clothes and jeans lies an undeniable truth: the massive consumption of water, chemicals, waste and energy. According to the Natural Resources Defence Council (NRDC), the fashion industry is amongst the most polluting and energy consuming, but that is about to change.

A range of key players are now working together on a new tool that aims to make the entire industry more sustainable – from the smallest cotton supplier to the largest manufacturer. 

Companies such as Patagonia, which is known for its sustainable and transparent production of clothes, along with retail giant Walmart have initiated a project with Nike, Timberland, H&M, Gap, Levi-Strauss and others. The project, called Sustainable Apparel Coalition, has developed a free sustainability index tool that will make it possible to estimate how much a piece of clothing or a pair of shoes affects the environment. Furthermore, it also aims to determine whether human rights are violated in the product lifecycle – from creation to disposal. 

The ultimate ambition is to make information about product lifecycles available to consumers. According to Deputy Director of Product Development at Walmart, Alex Tomey, the aim is to provide credible labels to put on clothes and shoes within the next five years.

Initially, the tool was developed as an internal tool for the industry - and for good reason, according to CEO Linda Greer from NRDC. She estimates that nine out of ten textile producers have no idea where their materials originate. During the product lifecycle, there are numerous players involved, whose footprint is virtually unknown.

The new tool will be open and free for all. Companies simply add information that is gathered throughout the production process and insert it into the new tool. Other highly detailed Corporate Social Responsibility-indexes developed by Nike and Timberland are used as prototypes for this project. At Nike, for example, at the very beginning when developing a new product, all designers have to consult the index so the product will use the most sustainable material.

It is scarcely two years ago that fashion manufacturers came together in The Sustainable Apparel Coalition. Today there are about 40 members, all of which are carefully selected from among NGOs and trade associations.

The index is expected to be available for the rest of the industry later this year and, if successful, become a model for other industries.

The prospect of transparency in supply chains will not only reduce costs, but also lessen the human costs, that more often than not put too high a price tag on cheap clothes.

More information:
Forbes: The Top 10 Trends in CSR for 2012  

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