Image: via ecoindexbeta.org
An unlikely combination of apparel and footwear companies is collaborating around a potentially great resource for people looking to understand the sustainability (or lack thereof) built into the supply chains of their outdoor gear. The Outdoor Industry Association is on track to have Phase 1 of the Eco Index officially launch in the spring. The index, described as an environmental assessment tool to provide "companies throughout the supply chain a way to benchmark and measure their environmental footprint, allowing them to identify areas for improvement and make informed sourcing and product life cycle decisions."
Phase 1 would evaluate products based on their water consumption, waste, and greenhouse gas emissions. Other indicators, including chemicals/toxics, land use intensity and biodiversity, will be accounted for in later versions.The idea for the Eco Index isn't new—it was launched last summer—but it's newsworthy now because it's growing, and because more and more companies are joining in. Including Levi's, for example: not the first company that comes to mind for outdoor gear.
GreenBiz explains, "Levi's was looking for a tool that it could use to rate its products in a repeatable and standard manner," rather than reinvent the wheel. About 100 companies have tested out the Eco Index so far.
ESPN, of all places, breaks down the idea behind the index pretty clearly:
The Eco Index hopes to establish a multi-industry standard that actually gives solid definition to these claims. In layman's terms, it provides a series of measurements and standards that all snowboard companies (or "outdoor" companies) can use to determine how their entire product lifecycle -- from the sourcing of raw materials to manufacturing of final products to disposal of left over waste material -- stacks up environmentally.
ESPN also quotes Jill Dumain, Director of Environmental Strategy for Patagonia, a company most TreeHuggers know and love: "I believe it is the most comprehensive tool I've seen... It will enable a company, and individuals within a company, to take their own sector -- whether it be design, transportation, logistics or materials -- and improve what their specific job is."
You can explore the index by tool and look in-depth at each one (although some of the sections are not live yet). For example, click on Footprinting Indicators and you'll get a list explaining the roles of GHG emissions, energy use, water withdrawal and waste in the calculation of a company's footprint. Clicking on each term helps you understand exactly what each means, so that the index doesn't seem like a bunch of jargon—or greenwash.
More on sustainability in the outdoor industry
Outdoor Industry Looks to Improve Sustainability Standards
How to Go Green: Outdoor Sports
See How Patagonia Spent $3.8 Million This Year