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Walmart, Nike, Gap Create Apparel Index

Nike, Target, JC Penney and Levi’s are among the nearly 30 manufacturers and retailers that have created an industry-wide index to evaluate apparel products’ environmental impact.

The Sustainable Apparel Coalition, launched today, also includes non-profits, academics and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). It aims to reduce the environmental and social impacts of apparel and footwear products sold around the world.

Coalition members have already drawn up Version 1.0 of their Apparel Index, with beta testing by members and their suppliers due to begin in April. Later in 2011, they plan to expand the index to cover footwear.

The Apparel Index will not be a consumer-facing rating in the short term, because of the complexity of calculating a single numeric score, the coalition said. Instead, it will be used to drive improvements.

But the index will be developed with the expectation that customer-facing scoring will be used in the future, and it will be fully transparent to encourage broad, global adoption, the coalition said.

Version 1.0 uses indicators that span the entire apparel life cycle, including materials, manufacturing, packaging, transportation, use and end of life, the coalition said. Its environmental impact categories include energy, greenhouse gases, water quality, water use, chemistry and toxics, waste, land use and air emissions.

The index will draws on previous efforts by members, including the Outdoor Industry Association’s Eco Index and Nike’s Environmental Apparel Design tool, unveiled late last year.

News of the coalition’s formation first broke in November, when Ecotextile News reported that the members account for 60 percent of global apparel sales. But reports that the coalition was designing a consumer-oriented label now seem premature.

“The largest and most influential corporations in apparel and footwear together with leading environmental and social organizations have voluntarily engaged in this collective effort because they recognize the opportunity to get in front of the growing need to measure and manage the environmental and social impacts of their products,” said coalition chair Rick Ridgeway, the 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,'” Ridgeway added.

Members will commit to a specified, minimal level of best practices within each of their supply chains. The coalition said this will be enabled by establishing consistent expectations for brands, retailers and manufacturers.

Members will agree to share best practice information in support of coalition initiatives. Activities will also include spotlighting promising technological innovations, the coalition said.

The coalition’s environmental goals include:

  • Improving water-use efficiency and/or re-use in cultivation or production of raw materials (e.g. cotton) and product manufacturing;
  • Minimizing the volume and chemical constituents of water discharges associated with manufacturing;
  • Reducing the need for water use in garment care by challenging conventional washing practices and developing alternative approaches;
  • Minimizing direct and embedded energy use;
  • Creating products that mitigate other carbon impacts in society (such as reducing the need for heating and air conditioning systems);
  • Committing to minimizing operational, supply chain and end-of-life waste;
  • Developing effective uses for textile waste;
  • Reducing the use of chemicals and potentially hazardous materials which pose health or environmental risks, both in cultivation and manufacturing.

The founding members are based in North America, Asia and Europe. They include:

  • Adidas
  • Arvind Mills
  • C&A
  • Duke University
  • Environmental Defense Fund
  • Esprit
  • Esquel
  • Gap Inc.
  • H&M
  • HanesBrands
  • Intradeco
  • JC Penney
  • Kohl’s Department Stores
  • Lenzing
  • Levi Strauss & Co.
  • LF USA, a division of Li & Fung Limited
  • Marks & Spencer
  • Mountain Equipment Co-op
  • New Balance
  • Nike
  • Nordstrom
  • Otto Group
  • Outdoor Industry Association
  • Patagonia
  • Pentland Brands
  • REI
  • TAL Apparel
  • Target
  • Timberland
  • U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
  • Verité
  • VF Corp
  • Walmart

The list includes many of the top purchasers of organic cotton in the world.

Picture credit: Old Navy products, from parent company Gap

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