Apparel Industry Addresses Sustainability

Last Updated:
Fri, 2018-04-20 13:36

The fashion world is all about trends and keeping up with the latest styles. Fast fashion, as it’s called, has emerged to feed consumer demand for novel, trendy, inexpensive apparel. While consumers of fast fashion often sacrifice quality and durability for an affordable up-to-the-minute style, there are hidden social and environmental costs all along the supply chain. Some in the industry are starting to pay attention and strive for improvement, classifying sustainability as both a business imperative, and an opportunity.

Leading the Way

SAC logoThe Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC) is a trade organization whose mission is to achieve “an apparel and footwear industry that produces no unnecessary environmental harm and has a positive impact on the people and communities associated with its activities.” With over 100 members, including brands, retailers, and manufacturers, the coalition makes up more than 30% of the worldwide market share of the apparel and footwear industries. Recognizable brands and retailers participating in the effort include: Nike, Levi Strauss, Coca Cola, Adidas, Patagonia, Burberry, Puma, Gap, Nordstrom, Walmart, Target, and REI. According to John Kibbey, executive director of SAC, who is also a featured speaker at this year’s Ceres conference, “This is about industry transformation so everyone can benefit from reduced risk as well as efficiency.“

Assessment Tools

The SAC has developed a suite of tools, called the Higg Index, to standardize the measurement of product impact across the supply chain. The tools are still evolving, and a new 2.0 version, including a web interface, was just released at the end of 2013. The Higg Index is currently being used by SAC members and their invited manufacturers to perform self-assessments of labor practices and measure energy usage, greenhouse gas emissions, water consumption, chemical use, and waste management. Assessments result in a score for the environmental performance of a product. It allows the user to benchmark performance over time and identify problem areas. It encourages continuous improvement and promotes collaboration and transparency.

Since most big apparel companies have their own policies, inspectors, and reporting systems, suppliers are challenged to adapt to varying inspection and audit requirements. Use of the Higg Index will eliminate much of the duplication of efforts, saving time and money for all stakeholders. Information provided to the coalition for use in the new online portal can be easily accessed and kept up-to-date in one central location.

Passing Trend or New Precedent?

fashion graphicWill the industry maintain this sharp focus on sustainability to affect meaningful change? The next big thing in fashion is never easy to predict. But, if sustainability can successfully transition from a new idea to a best practice that endures over time, it could slow the pace of fast fashion. To learn more about improving business practices in any industry to reduce environmental impacts, check out Everblue’s ISSP Sustainability Associate course.

By Amy Malloy

photo credit: via photopin cc