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Green jeans: big companies start sustainable clothing initiative

Jeremy Hance
March 06, 2011

Ever wonder how ‘green’ one pair of shoes was over another? Or how much energy, water, and chemicals went into making your pair of jeans? A new effort by over 32 companies, environmental organizations, and social watchdogs may soon allow shoppers to compare not only price and appeal, but sustainability too.

Dubbed the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, the group plans to craft an industry-wide index, which measures the environmental and social impacts of clothing and footwear. With corporate heavyweights like Walmart, Nike, and Target—along with longtime environmental champions Patagonia and Timberland—pairing up with the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), the initiative could be the beginning of a green revolution for a notoriously complicated industry.

“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 Rick Ridgeway, Coalition Chair and Vice President of Environmental Programs at clothing-store Patagonia, in a press release.

As a jumping-off point the Sustainable Apparel Coalition will look to two different efforts that have already begun work on measuring environmental impacts in the apparel industry: the Outdoor Industry Association’s “Eco Index” and Nike’s “Environmental Apparel Design”. The group hopes to begin testing an initial sustainability index this year.

In addition to a sustainability index the group hopes that close collaboration will bring about rapid changes to ‘green’ the apparel industry, including mitigating water-use and reducing chemicals.

“People are at such different points on the sustainability journey, and working together can accelerate our ability to make change,” Alex Tomey, Vice President for product development and design at Walmart, explained to the New York Times.

The group hopes to expand membership by next year.

“[The members of the organization] recognize the threat to the planet and its inhabitants by continuing the model of ‘business as usual,’” added Ridgeway.

The apparel initiative continues a recent trend of some of the world’s biggest companies working together to reduce their environmental footprint. In November of last year at he UN Climate Summit in Cancun, the Board of Consumer Goods Forum (BCGF) approved a resolution to achieve net zero deforestation by 2020 in products such as palm oil, soy, beef, and paper. BCFG is made up of four hundred global consumer goods manufacturers and retailers totaling over $2.8 trillion in revenue.


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