These days, there are countless apparel manufacturers and labels out there that make there own unique eco-conscious claims. Problem is, well, they’re unique. Meaning, nobody’s really on the same page on what truly constitutes an environmentally-friendly product. So what’s a consumer to believe? How can they make informed purchasing decisions when every company uses a different scorecard?
The answer, of course, is brand collaboration. Toward this end, an industry-wide group of leading apparel and footwear brands, retailers, manufacturers, non-governmental organizations, academic experts and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency came together to create the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC) . The SAC is working to reduce the environmental and social impacts of apparel and footwear products around the world by developing common measurements and a common environmental understanding of products’ impacts across our industry.
To accomplish this, the SAC built on the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) ’s Eco Index™, a standardized tool for measuring the environmental impacts of all outdoor products (things like boots, clothing, tents, and more). The Eco Index™ evaluates impacts in six key areas of a product’s lifecycle: Materials, Packaging, Product Manufacturing and Assembly, Transport and Distribution, Use of Service and End of Life.
The SAC adapted the Eco Index™ for apparel in an effort to give brands more control over reducing environmental impacts right from the outset, rather than relying on factories. “It’s like preventive health care,” explains Betsy Blaisdell, senior manager of environmental stewardship for Timberland. “It’s hard to say to a factory, ‘You have to do the clean-up,’ if the product is designed to create pollution. But when we can provide designers and developers with credible, practical, and universal standards for measuring environmental performance, then they can make more sustainable choices.”
Factories, too, will benefit from the Index, by having only one standard of measurement to respond to, rather than subtle differences among competing brands. In this way, suppliers will be able to focus more on solutions, rather than audits and testing.
Blaisdell hopes the SAC tool will similarly spur environmentally sustainable practices not only at Timberland, but across the entire apparel industry. “I also hope consumers will support brands that are active in the coalition,” she says. “These brands are committed to improving the environmental sustainability of our industry.”
The SAC’s adapted Eco Index™ is now being pilot tested in factories, which will determine whether the concept is workable in a real environment. The final index is expected to be released in 2012. While it will not be consumer facing at first, the hope is that it will soon be. Stay tuned for future updates!