Finally, We’ll Be Able to Measure the Impact of Our Clothing…

Have you ever been shopping for a shirt or pair of jeans and been confused about just how eco friendly that piece of clothing is? I know I have.

For instance, does a pair of jeans that are made locally have less of an environmental impact than an organic pair made overseas? Or, what about a tshirt that’s made using vegetable dyes…how much more eco friendly is that process compared to using traditional dyes?

These are questions that many consumers have started asking as they weigh the environmental impact of their clothing. And while there is no industry-wide standard for measuring this impact, there soon will be. The Sustainable Apparel Coalition has just officially launched. Their goal?

To create a Sustainable Apparel Index, which would be a global initiative to measure, and rate, a piece clothing’s impact on the environment. The entire loop, from fabric and dye sourcing to final delivery would be analyzed, measured and rated both the Sustainable Apparel Coalition and a credible third party.

One of the goals of the Coalition is to turn around the fashion industry’s “race to the bottom”, which was started by ultra-low discount chains (like H&M) creating “disposable clothing”. Instead, the Coalition hopes to create a “race to the top” and enable consumers to make more informed decisions about their clothing purchases. Hopefully, this would inspire more designers and large-scale companies to make more responsible decisions about their manufacturing process.

According to the Coalition, here are the Design Principals for the Sustainable Apparel Index::

The index must:

  • Have measureable impact:
    • Deliver business value to companies
    • Drive quantifiable improvement in social and environmental impact
  • Drive behavior change and promote continuous improvement:
    • Be easy to use and understand for users (deliver results in a simple and useful format)
    • Encourage industry to engage their supply chain in measurement (including collection of primary data)
    • Encourage pooling of primary data in order to update the industry average over time and raise the bar
    • Be dynamic (adjusted over time to reflect new methods, data) yet well-planned
    • Enable “predictive” (pre-commercial) process/product design decisions and “reactive” end-product evaluation
    • Weight factors based on ability to drive impact (increase weighting for areas of greatest leverage)
    • Be credible:
    • Employ a life cycle-based approach that focuses on priority hotspots and uses 100% transparent, widely agreed-upon, best available measurement methods
    • Have a 100% transparent scoring algorithm and enable 3rd party verification of results
    • Be co-created with broad involvement/ownership of the industry through a global, multi-stakeholder process
    • Use consistent, widely agreed upon impact area weightings (not defined by individual companies)
    • Have a self-sustaining governance and revenue model (to cover maintenance needs/costs)
    • Focus on B2B decision-making first, with the expectation that consumer-facing scores will exist in the future

The diagram below is a sample of what the Sustainable Apparel Index might look like:

The Coalitions is receiving help from several organizations, including Nike and the Outdoor Industry Association, to create and improve the Index. Both of these organizations have devoted considerable time and financial resources towards the development of the Index, which warrants three cheers from me!

I’m sure that a global-wide Index won’t be appearing on clothing tags anytime soon. But the fact that it’s in development at all is a major step in the right direction for the fashion industry.

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