Sustainable Apparel Coalition Sets Standards for Clothing and Footwear

Twenty-six big-name apparel companies have banded together with non-profit agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency and Verité (a labor rights group) to create the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, an organization devoted to reducing the environmental and ethical impact of the clothing and footwear supply chain.

In March 2011, the Sustainable Apparel Coalition announced plans to create a database that will track the environmental impact and fair labor practices for clothing and footwear production, with the goal to create a universal index for sustainability practices within the apparel industry.  This index will set a standard for the manufacturing methods of major apparel companies, taking into account factors such as energy usage, fair labor practices, waste removal methods and water quality.  All of the members of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition have agreed to support the collection of this data and made a commitment to work toward more sustainable practices.  Eventually, the Coalition hopes to use this index to create a consumer label that can be placed on individual products to inform consumers about the apparel's sustainability rating.

Consumers should not expect to see sustainability labels on clothing any time soon.  The supply chain for apparel is complicated and this is the first large-scale sustainability effort for the apparel industry.  First, the data must be collected.  Second, standards that support both sustainability and realistic business practices must be negotiated.  Third, companies associated with the Sustainable Apparel Coalition must implement those standards.  After those steps have been taken, then perhaps the idea of placing a sustainability rating on clothing and footwear labels will become a reality.  The Sustainable Apparel Coalition has not yet released a time-line for later stages of this process, including the creation of a consumer label.  The first draft of the Sustainable Apparel Index for companies and suppliers is expected to be complete by April 2011.

Current members of the Coalition include Adidas, Espirit, Gap Inc, Levi Strauss & Co., Nike, Patagonia, REI, Target, Walmart and other for-profit corporations, as well as research organizations such as Duke University, Environmental Defense Fund and Outdoor Industry Association and supply chain managers such as Li & Fung.  Membership in the Sustainable Apparel Coalition is completely voluntary, and is currently by invitation-only.  The Coalition expects to expand from 33 to 40 members by June 2011 and may repeal the invitation-only membership policy in 2012, once the beginning stages of their sustainability index effort are complete.

Photo Credit:  Thing Three