Setting new standards in historically unsustainable industries

Now more than ever, multinational product companies and manufacturers are realizing the need for real, effective sustainability strategies. While, in many ways, we still very much live in a world of profits over planet, recent consumer trends and market analyses are telling us that a shift toward “green” is becoming less of an option and more of a necessity.

While no industry is beyond the scope of this recent focus on recycling, waste reduction and lightweight packaging, not all industries are necessarily created equal – such as the infamously unsustainable textile industry. Between the copious amount of water required during manufacturing and the risks of water pollution to the increased risks of deforestation, textile and fashion products are often among the most unsustainable in the consumer products market.

It also doesn’t help that, in the United States, textiles are recovered from the municipal solid waste stream at an incredibly low rate, with only about 14.4% of textiles being recycled annually. This begs the question: what are major players in the industry doing about it?

Enter The North Face, one of the leading drivers of sustainability across the outdoor clothing and equipment market. The North Face takes an all-encompassing approach to sustainability, developing waste reduction, recycling, product stewardship and other sustainability initiatives across various aspects of their platform.

For example, on the consumer side is the “Clothes the Loop” program. Any of their retail or outlet store locations will accept any and all clothing or footwear, in any condition. Aggregated clothing is then reused or repaired for prolonged use, or recycled into raw materials for products like carpet padding and insulation. As an incentive to drop off clothing, participants receive coupons and rewards that give discounts toward The North Face products.

With the help of my company, TerraCycle, The North Face is also helping to recycle a waste stream consumers rarely even know exists. Participating The North Face retail and outlet locations collect polybags – those plastic film bags clothes are packaged in to prevent damage during shipping – for recycling. These plastic film bags are not commonly recyclable, and considering the volume of garments shipped across the world every day, it’s a substantial waste stream.

In addition to reducing the waste from their clothing products, The North Face has also partnered with bluesign technologies to reduce factory and processing center waste and increase efficiencies across their entire supply chain. The results of the bluesign audit have greatly increased the efficiency of partnering facilities, resulting in considerable water, energy and chemical savings across the supply chain.

Thanks to a partnership with nonprofit Protect Our Winters (POW), The North Face has also initiated an environmental education campaign targeted at middle and high school students. The program, called “Hot Planet Cool Athletes” brings to light the dangers and implications of climate change. With endorsements from pro athletes around the world, the program hopes to motivate and inspire younger generations to care about the environment and to be conscious of their own environmental impacts. The best part is that participation in the program is completely free.

At the back-end of their sustainability platform is The North Face’s focus on building green, hyper-sustainable office campuses and processing facilities. Their Alameda, California headquarters, for example, is run on 100% renewable energy, utilizes an indirect-direct evaporative cooling (IDEC) HVAC system to cut out the use of chemical coolants, and it even serves local organic food to employees.

While corporate social responsibility is becoming a requirement in the business world, few companies are making the same amount of effort as The North Face. From promoting environmental awareness to providing consumers with a product stewardship platform, companies like The North Face are raising the sustainability bar for corporations across the world.

Tags: Corporate Responsibility | Green Fashion | Waste

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