Thirty of the largest apparel manufacturers and retailers – together comprising an estimated 60% of global apparel sales – recently announced the formation of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition. This group, which also includes academics, non-profits and the Environmental Protection Agency, is creating the industry’s first large-scale initiative to improve environmental and social performance through the establishment of standards and tools.
The Sustainable Apparel Index will be a tool for companies to evaluate the impacts of the entire life cycle of apparel products, including materials, manufacturing, packaging, transportation, use, and end of life. It be not be "consumer facing" but rather will provide a tool for companies to evaluate their performance. Version 1.0 of the Index is expected to be ready for pilot-testing in April 2011.
The long-term goals of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition include eventually creating a labeling system with a single numeric score to give consumers a much clearer picture of the impacts of their clothing and footwear – allowing consumers to take social and environmental costs into account in their buying decisions. For now, Coalition members will use the Index to drive change within the industry, by measuring and managing the impacts linked to their products using five categories:
- Water use and quality;
- Energy use and greenhouse gases;
- Waste; chemicals and toxicity; and
- Social and labor.
The Index will build on Nike’s Apparel Environmental Design Tool and the Outdoor Industry Association’s Eco Index, both of which were launched last year.
As reported by various news sources, the Coalition’s goals include reducing the industry’s impacts on water and consumption, improving waste diversion, and reducing the use of chemicals. Members will share best practices information and commit to a specified level of best practices within each of their supply chains by establishing consistent expectations for brands, retailers and manufacturers.
This group’s efforts to measure and manage the impacts of their products are particularly notable due to the fact that many brand companies do not own the production facilities and factories, and rely on very long and complicated supply chains over which they do not have control. If successful, their focus on improving supply chain performance could also become a model for other industries.