Clothing: a major Pollutant? That's not as crazy as it sounds. Every year, 21 billion pounds of apparel ends up in landfills. And producing a single pair of jeans can take up to 1,600 gallons of water.
With that in mind--and knowing the power of green to influence shoppers--Nike, Target and other companies banded together to create the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC), which recently launched a groundbreaking initiative to help clothing companies go greener by assigning them sustainability scores. The Higg Index, which is for internal use only (scores will eventually be made public via tag, website or even app), accounts for everything from harmful chemicals used to energy wasted during the creation and transportation of a product. "We've uncovered things [in supply lines] that companies didn't even know about, like plaid shirts wasting half the fabric used to make them," says Jason Kibbey, executive director of the SAC.
More than 60 brands, including Gap and Adidas, piloted the program, which is now open to all apparel makers. Kibbey's hope is that more companies will follow their eco-example. Timberland, for instance, scored well for using recycled coffee grounds to dye its jackets. And it's not just for bragging rights; trimming energy costs has boosted the bottom line at VF Corp., which owns Timberland and North Face, says Letitia Webster, its head of sustainability.
Because the Higg Index isn't backed by the U.S. government, there's no penalty for low scores, which limits its effectiveness. Still, peer pressure plays a part--as does demand from increasingly eco-conscious consumers. "They vote with their dollars," says Webster.
Designed to look best when washed in cold water and air-dried (i.e., with minimal energy use)
Micro Tencel fabric is made from wood pulp
Made in eco-friendly factory
Fabric fibers made from 58.5 recycled plastic bottles
Up to 83% recycled content
Excess material used to make tote bags
North Face Denali jacket
Timberland Earthkeepers shoe
Sole made from 42% recycled rubber
Leather comes from eco-friendly tannery
Lining fibers made from 1.5 recycled plastic bottles per pair
Laces made from organic cotton harvested without toxins