The fashion industry has a huge impact on environmental, social, and governance issues. Crunch the numbers however you may like and the textile and fashion industries score high on the amount of energy, chemicals, and resources from cotton to petroleum consumed to manufacture clothing. The factories in which textiles are woven and finished have their effects on workers from Southeast Asia to Turkey. Finally, with the convoluted supply chain upon which many apparel companies rely on to turn raw materials into products that line the shelves of retail stores, one errant supplier or contract manufacturer can cause a huge headache for the folks in the central office.
With the challenges that apparel manufacturers and retailers confront on a daily basis, a coalition of retail companies, apparel and shoe manufacturers, fashion houses, non-profits, and the EPA launched a new organization that seeks to reduce the environmental and social impacts of the clothing industry across the globe.
The Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC), which includes Nike, Gap Inc, H&M, Levi Strauss, Marks & Spencer, and Patagonia, will work to lead the apparel industry towards developing improved sustainability strategies and tools to measure and evaluate sustainability performance. The group of thirty organizations began to work together informally last year, and hopes to have an expanded membership well into 2012.
The Coalition’s purpose at a higher level has two goals. First, the member organizations will develop plans to soften the apparel industry’s impact on water and industry consumption, while making commitments to improved waste diversion and the reduction in the use of chemicals. To that end, the Coalition’s members will work with industry peers and supply chain partners to achieve the fullest possible life cycle transparency for clothing. Meanwhile, the SAC seeks to ensure that workplaces throughout the apparel industry adopt fair employment practices and a safe working environment, while eliminating any exposure to toxic chemicals.
Second, the Coalition will develop a metrics-based tool that will assist companies in the measurement of their environmental and social impacts. For now described as the Version 1.0 Apparel Index, the tool works similarly to Nike’s Apparel Environmental Design Tool and the Outdoor Industry Association’s Eco Index. Besides offering an assessment on companies’ usages of energy, water, and chemicals, the index will also evaluate products’ entire life cycles. Companies will be able to measure their performance, compare them to their peers, and receive guidelines and resources for how they can improve their performance all such metrics. The Apparel Index is slated to launch next month.
For now the Sustainable Apparel Coalition is open to only invited companies to gauge the organization’s potential for working together, and will open its membership next year. Members contribute annual dues to the organization, and eventually will branch out and develop more customize tools for specializations such as footwear.
Should the Sustainable Apparel Coalition succeed, its focus on improving on supply chain performance could become a model for other industries. More efficient, energy-saving, and transparent supply chains not only reduce costs, but lessen the human costs that put too high of a price tag on what are often cheap clothes.