Sustainable Apparel Coalition Plans Industry-Wide Eco-Index

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photo: skyepeale/Creative Commons

It may be a while until this next one bears fruit, but it certainly is interesting and a step forward in getting more people on board paying attention to the environmental impact of clothing: The Sustainable Apparel Coalition has just launched, with the goal of creating an "industry-wide index for measuring and evaluating apparel and footwear product sustainability"--the Sustainable Apparel Index.According to the group's press release,

The tools will be developed with involvement of a wide range of stakeholders, and the metrics will be fully transparent to encourage broad adoption of the index globally. To accomplish this, the Coalition will draw on the work of different efforts to measure and track apparel sustainability including the Outdoor Industry Association "Eco Index" and Nike's "Environmental Apparel Design" tools.

The plan is to beta-test a version of the sustainability index later in 2011. As New York Times reports, eventually this index may be translated into a form that clothing consumers will be able to use to weight the eco-impact of their clothing choices.

Before end consumers get involved though, NYT explains how designers will be able to use it:

The coalition's tool is meant to be a database of scores assigned to all the players in the life cycle of a garment -- cotton growers, synthetic fabric makers, dye suppliers, textile mill owners, as well as packagers, shippers, retailers and consumers -- based on a variety of social and environmental measures like water and land use, energy efficiency, waste production, chemical use, greenhouse gases and labor practices.

A clothing company designer could then use the tool to select materials and suppliers, computing an overall sustainability score based on industry standards. If the score exceeds the company's own sustainability goals -- or if competitive pressures arising from a consumer label are compelling the company to bring scores down -- designers could revise their choices with the tool.

Taking part in the project as founders are a goodly number of the big players in mass market fashion, as well as a number of big environmental NGOs and agencies: Adidas, Arvind Mills, C&A;, Duke University, Environmental Defense Fund, Esprit, Esquel, Gap Inc., H&M;, HanesBrands, Intradeco, JC Penney, Lenzing, Levi Strauss & Co., Li & Fung, Marks & Spencer, Mountain Equipment Co-op, New Balance, Nike, Nordstrom, Otto Group, Outdoor Industry Association, Patagonia, Pentland Brands, REI, TAL Apparel, Target, Timberland, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Verité, VF Corp, and Walmart.

Which brings me to putting on my criticism hat and cock it to the side in the same manner as whenever there's a big industry sustainability announcement like this:

Good Steps In A Less Good System
This sort of step is genuinely good in terms of quantifying environmental impact and hopefully reducing it, but it does so within the boundaries of large multinational corporations--perhaps not the best business model for an energy-constrained, resource-constrained world and definitely antithetical to greater localization & regionalization of manufacturing, distribution and commerce.

Make no doubt about it, when a company with the reach of Walmart or, on a smaller but still significant scale, Gap makes changes in the supply chain that benefit the environment those changes are big and have far-ranging ripple effects. But it's still done by monotonous, soulless, placeless corporations.

Not a criticism of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition's plans of course, but a criticism of the globalized corporate system itself.

More on Sustainable Clothing:
H&M; Caught in "Organic" Cotton Fraud
Green Fashion: 7 Reasons Why You Should Care About Sustainable Fashion

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