Keen To Be Green

When it comes to joining the growing ranks of the sustainability movement, apparel companies are no laggards. As "being green" approaches the status of a national pastime, individuals and companies across industries are taking small and large steps to improve their conduct so that it has the least deleterious impact on the Earth.
We hear new reports of this every day at Apparel. Whether it's in their efforts to eliminate the use of unsafe dyes in the making of their fabrics, to reduce waste or to improve the lives of workers at their factories, apparel companies are increasingly making efforts to operate their business more responsibly.
This article highlights just 10 of the many apparel companies that are, in multiple ways across the supply chain, working toward building more sustainable businesses.

Nau Inc.

To launch its company around a new paradigm, building first around ideals of social and corporate responsibility.
How it is achieving this goal: Boldly, the dynamic four-year-old Portland, OR-based outdoor apparel company legally bound itself to its articles of incorporation, bylaws and a code of conduct before it even began designing a product.
The standards set in its corporate rules of responsibility are lofty. For example, with regard to employees based in the United States, the company established rules off the bat that they are to be compensated an amount that is not less than 1.5 times the U.S. federal minimum wage, and also stipulated that no officer of Nau shall receive a salary in excess of 12 times the compensation paid to the lowest paid fulltime employee. Its rules also call for donating five percent of sales to non-profit organizations devoted to creating lasting change.
Reversing the language to any selfimposed bylaw is a difficult undertaking - it requires 75 percent shareholder approval, set purposefully high.
Nau identifies as its ultimate goal to demonstrate the highest level of citizenship "in everything we do," from production creation, production and labor practices, to the way "we treat each other," environmental practices and philanthropy.
At the recent Organic Exchange conference, the company's vice president of marketing, Ian Yolles, reiterated Nau's philosophy that companies hold a broader social responsibility. "In our case what's interesting is the entire design process has been [shaped] by our collective commitment to the ideals and the ethos associated with sustainability," he said. "We feel very strongly that companies have a much broader responsibility to the community than rabid singular pursuit of profit at the expense of everything else."
The company known for its retail web store fronts practices what it preaches: A year prior to the launch of its first collection, it unveiled its corporate "Thought Kitchen" blog, which tackles social issues. Yolles points out that not once did it even address its upcoming product line as might be expected.
Yolles suggested that in a digital and more transparent world that has enabled instantaneous global conversation, corporate and social responsibility are more scrutinized than ever. He pointed to the downfalls of Enron and WorldCom.
"How you fit in the world is becoming more important," he said. "At the end of the day, somebody can copy your product. What's more difficult to copy is how you actually behave. It's more and more about outbehaving the competition."


Goal: To allocate as organic 20 percent of the cotton it uses by 2011.
How it is achieving this goal: Although that target is still a few years away, Joan Mudget, the vice president of supply chain for Nordstrom's private label business, says the fashionable Seattle-based retailer is on the right track.
Mudget, speaking at the annual conference of the Organic Exchange, reported that the upscale chain established a solid foundation with use of 3 percent organic cotton. "That may not seem a lot compared to the top [users of organic cotton,]" she said. "But it's a start, and it's something we want to grow on."
Recently, Nordstrom launched two sustainable apparel brands for women: The athletic line Zella, and Stern sportswear.
Nordstrom's own initiative toward an increasingly organic supply chain is ambitious, Mudget said, noting that some market forces did not appear favorable to that move initially.
"As a fashion specialty retailer, you can imagine some of the challenges that we have approached with implementing organic cotton," she said. "We went to the buyers and asked: 'Is the customer requesting organic? We would really like to get involved with this.' At the time we were approaching them there really wasn't that demand."
Nordstrom's numerous apparel and home textile brands typically are "autonomous" from a sourcing perspective, said Mudget, and resistance also came from its manufacturers concerned about price, lead time and quality.
"We had to get the right people together in the right room, and we couldn't take 'no' for an answer," says Mudget. "We just had to continue to focus on the end result."
Nordstrom, she said, took it "one program, one product at a time," in some cases integrating organic cotton in early programs without publicizing it at first.
Then, it created a "fiber pool" and united all its supply chain stakeholders. Nordstrom implemented contracts with cotton merchants, yarn spinners, fabric weavers and cutand- sew factories. A contract with a cotton merchant, for instance, outlined future deliveries, and a deal with a spinner guaranteed the purchase of textiles from that cotton merchant. That helped secure the lead time and price. It also guaranteed certification.
Mudget said the company also received support from the not-for-profit Organic Exchange and, as it strives to meet its 2011 goal, hopes to sign more contracts with African growers, recognizing the continent's rising importance as a source of organic cotton.
"We've felt all along this is the right thing to do," Mudget says. "We knew that demand would be there in the future and we just wanted to have a positive impact."

Izzy Lane

Goal: Stated mission is to create an economic model "whereby sheep can exist, be valued and have a place in our world without being used for meat."
How it is achieving this goal: The company is named after its founder, Isobel Davies, who launched her made in-Britain wool clothing label at the beginning of 2007. The brand combines her fondness for animals with her passion for fashion.
A onetime rock musician from the United Kingdom, Davies is also a vegetarian and outspoken critic of factory farming - she says she is saddened at how animals are slaughtered unnecessarily around the world.
Inspired to make a difference, she salvages sheep (more than 500 to date) and provides an alternate sanctuary for them to live out their lives on borrowed Yorkshire farmland. "Our animals are often designated for slaughter for being male, missing a pregnancy, being lame, too small or old or having color imperfections such as a black spot in a white fleece," says Davis. "We'll often pay equal and better prices at market to save them."
The fine wool from the Izzy Lane flock, comprised mainly of Shetland and Wensleydale sheep, is produced into luxuriously fashionable high-end garments, including vintage-style winter coats (think Jackie O). Often, the colorful fleece from her sheep does not require dyeing, although Davies has sought to utilize local dyers, weavers and knitters whenever possible from England's historic but fading textile marketplace.
The upstart label sells directly online at the moment, although Davies says she is exploring other channels to sell her line - and promote her message of ethical treatment.
Her garments were unveiled at the ECO Fashion show in Las Vegas last February during MAGIC, and she is promoting the line at London Fashion Week this month. "We've saved lots of sheep," Davies says. "Our next goal is to build the brand."


Goal: To establish the first leather brand apparel to attain organic status while still emphasizing fashion.
How it is achieving this goal: Leather clothing and accessories might be considered an anomaly in an eco-friendly fashion realm otherwise dominated by organic cotton (especially in a sector that includes quite a few vegetarian stakeholders). But the founders of London's ROMP brand have clearly carved out their niche in the green marketplace, taking exhaustive measures to create highend leather fashions that seek to protect good animal husbandry, respect the environment and foster transparency.
Established by entrepreneur Greg Sturmer and fashion designer Nina Morgan Jones, ROMP become the first known leather brand to achieve organic certification when it received an organic leather license from the U.K.-based Soil Association in 2001.
Matching its vision, the ROMP acronym stands for "Real Open Methods of Production."  IUV is a world-class Slovenia tannery first sought out by Sturmer and Jones for its technological expertise in eliminating harmful substances in the leather tanning process.
In particular, IUV helped the ROMP brand avoid the use of heavy metals that are used in the conventional tanning and dyeing process, particularly Chromium 3 (which if not handled properly can break down to Chromium 6, known to cause cancer).
With the support of IUV (which also utilizes a state-of-the-art water treatment center that averts pollution all too prevalent in the conventional leather tanning process), the venture developed alternative extracts in place of Chromium.
And by enlisting the comprehensive "String" Internet traceability service from U.K.-based Historic Futures, consumers of ROMP leather can track the production lifecycle all the way back to the farm.
"We believe you as a customer should have the right to know what it is you're buying and supporting," says Sturmer, whose close relationship with IUV evolved to the point that he recently became its CEO (and Jones its creative director). "Our products are unique in regard to their environmental footprint. If you look at the opposite end, the same product can be an absolute catastrophe: It can be horrid and there's no other word for it. What we're doing by contrast is a joy each and every day."
ROMP opens its first U.S. store in Los Angeles this month; it has also entered into a strategic partnership with Bernardo to market environmentally friendly leather fashions later this year.

Martex Fiber Southern Corp.

Goal: To achieve a closed loop by offering a unique and growing array of products and services based on sorting and recycling pre-consumer apparel and industrial textile products.
How it is achieving this goal: Suggestive that it was ahead of its time, Martex Fiber Southern Corp. was founded in 1974, well before the current green wave. The firm was formed by Martin Zeldin, a textile waste broker, and current president Jimmy Jarrett, whose initial expertise was in trucking and logistics. (The company also specializes in textile waste removal services.)
Although it has evolved over the years, the company remains true to its roots, particularly at its headquarters in Spartanburg, SC, where it continues recycling textile waste and creating baled fiber for a wide variety of industrial markets, including fill, pad and non-wovens. "The industry may have changed but there's always seemed to be a need for the service we provide," Jarrett says.
Over the past decade, that assessment has been especially apparent. In 1998, Martex Fiber established Jimtex Yarns, opening a large facility in Lincolnton, GA, where it produces recycled cotton blended yarns from collected cuttings discarded in apparel manufacturing.
To support its eco-minded customers who use those yarns from Jimtex, it launched the "ECO2Cotton" brand name two years ago. Recently, the company also has forged recycling and sourcing partnerships in Central America, an arrangement it says supports its CAFTA customers while still being close enough in proximity to minimize its footprint.
The company says that through its offerings, it is taking sustainability to a new level, as its recycling processes eliminate the need for any new farmland or irrigation. "We can take blue colored t-shirt cuttings, sort them, process them and spin them into blue yarn," notes marketing director Stefanie Zeldin. "I think it's a far more ecological and economical proposition vs. producing yarn at the outset and then having to dye it. It's really a win-win all around."

 Coldwater Creek

Goal: To offset 100 percent of its energy consumption through the purchase of renewable energy certificates (RECs) in order to "dramatically decrease" its carbon footprint on the environment.
How it is achieving this goal: The multi-channel women's apparel retailer is operating with the wind at its back these days - literally. In August 2006, it entered into a three-year commitment to purchase wind power and other green energy for its headquarters, distribution center, customer contact centers, overseas offices and all of its retail stores, which numbered 304 at the end of its most recent fiscal year.
Coldwater Creek committed to purchase 217,000 megawatt hours of green energy through August 2009, its estimated energy usage over those three years. The 24-year-old company claims it is helping prevent the release of more than 299 million pounds (135,000 metric tons) of carbon dioxide, a leading global-warming gas. The CO2 savings is considered the equivalent of removing 30,000 cars off the road for one year.
Along with wind power, other renewable sources of energy that Coldwater Creek is supporting through the purchase of the REC credits include solar, geothermal, biomass, landfill gas and low-impact hydropower. The retailer was recognized as one of the top 10 purchasers of green energy in the United States within the program, supported by the Environmental Protection Agency.
"From the time the company was formed on the shores of a pristine lake in a small town in north Idaho, we have had a tradition of environmental involvement and stewardship," says Coldwater Creek founder and chairman Dennis Pence. "Companies that have chosen to make this important move are creating a viable market for renewable energy sources and raising global awareness about alternatives to fossil-fuel power production."
Purchases made through the RECs, or "green tags," are allocated toward renewable generators that help them compete against traditional means of producing electricity.
"It's actually a very efficient way for a retailer with hundreds of locations all over the place to aggregate one central purchase," explains Steve McDougal, executive vice president of 3Degrees, the energy services firm that Coldwater Creek has partnered with.
"I think [Coldwater Creek] sees it as yet another way they can support a corporate culture that places importance on sustainability. It's something I know they're very proud of."


Goal: To move from an "opportunistic to a strategic approach" to sustainability when it comes to measuring the eco elements of its business. Patagonia is striving to be able to provide hard data relative to such areas as its carbon footprint, the amount of eco-friendly fabric in its products, how much product the company recycles and much more.
How it is achieving this goal: By integrating the environmental aspects of its business into the IT systems that "run the rest of the company," this pioneer of eco-friendly practices will be able to make sustainability an integral part of the company's inner workings, rather than an "added-on element" that sits outside all other functionality.
Despite its long-time regard for the environment, Patagonia is only now starting to surround its "green" practices with measurements and metrics. As part of this process, it is working with PTC, its PLM software provider, to build into its system fields and modules that will support this goal. "We are realizing that we need to be as organized on the environmental side of things as we have been on the product side all of these years," says Jill Dumain, Patagonia's environmental analysis director.
"This project will provide the ability to better track our progress toward making all of our products more environmentally friendly," she says.
With the adaptations to its IT systems, Patagonia expects to use both its PLM and ERP systems to measure its overall environmental footprint. The PLM system will accommodate information related to development, such as fabric specifications, organic components and production location, while its ERP system will track information related to logistics.
As the new system develops, the company will be able to easily answer questions such as: "How many products contain organic cotton?" or "How many products comprise your Common Threads (recycling) program?"
It will also be able to view the product from a more holistic perspective when it comes to its overall impact on the planet. Currently, its Footprint Chronicles ( follows the lifecycle of five Patagonia products, tallying up "the good," such as recycled content or production close to end market, and "the bad," which tracks physical waste, the energy required for manufacturing and transportation and the emissions created from those processes.
These latter are calculated with help from bluesign"technologies, an independent textile standard that works with the industry to ensure that partner companies are using the most earth-friendly products and methods available. Patagonia is working closely with bluesign to ensure that its fabric mill partners are using eco-friendly chemicals and dyes and the highest standards for worker safety.


Goal: To reduce both the monetary and environmental impact of water mismanagement.
How it is achieving this goal: Not only are most landscapes overwatered by 30 percent to 300 percent, but all that wasted water leads to expensive property destruction (e.g. parking lot damage), liabilities from slips and falls, and runoff pollution. Faced with rising water rates (up 27 percent across the United States), and with half of the country in a longterm, serious drought, Kohl's decided it was critical to gain control over its outdoor water use.
Also, wasting water reflected badly on its image. "I don't think our customers enjoy seeing us water our parking lots," said June Fischer Rojahn, Kohl's senior manager of environmental strategies, speaking at the annual NRF convention in New York City.
Kohl's began working with WeatherTRAK to implement its Smart Water Management system three years ago. Kohl's traditional outdoor watering system worked on a timer, turning on sprinklers regardless of weather conditions. Smart Water Management takes the weather into account to keep sprinklers from running when unnecessary.
Prior to installation, the water usage controller at the store is loaded with information on the property, such as the latitude and longitude of the store, soil condition and plant type, among other factors. The system can be configured at the store level or at Kohl's corporate headquarters.
As a result of the implementation, Kohl's reduced costs by an average of 30 percent on its first test projects and experienced an additional 30 percent reduction in greenmultiplier efforts in areas such as reducing CO2 runoff and maintaining healthier landscapes. One store reduced water consumption by 450,000 gallons in the first seven months. Also, landscapes and parking lot conditions have improved. In many regions, water agency rebates are available for additional cost savings.
Kohl's is implementing the system in all new stores until 2012, which includes about 125 this year, and is also retrofitting existing stores.
The move is also part of Kohl's recently announced efforts to open 70 stores in fall 2008 under the U.S. Green Building Council LEED retail portfolio program, which focuses on energy efficiency, eco-friendly construction and operational improvements, as well as water efficiency. The push is particularly noteworthy because only 25 big box stores currently hold such status.
"As a retail company, we want to make sure sustainability becomes part of our decision making processes, not an afterthought," said Fischer Rojahn.


Goal: To reduce packaging across its global supply chain by 5 percent by 2013, in order to help the retailer and its suppliers achieve greater efficiencies and conserve resources.
How it is achieving this goal: Wal-Mart made a splash in 2005 when it mapped out environmental goals designed to lead the company toward a sustainable future. It followed up on that missive early last year when it launched its "Packaging Scorecard" program, a measurement tool that has allowed suppliers over a one-year trial period to input information online to Wal-Mart and evaluate themselves on metrics.
The scorecard reverberated as a wake-up call throughout the consumer goods industry, apparently offering a subtle message to Wal-Mart suppliers to implement more environmentally friendly packaging practices if they wish to continue doing business with the mega-retailer. Wal-Mart executives have said its unique standing in the industry affords it with a golden opportunity to enact a positive impact on the environment while also benefiting suppliers.
The one-year scorecard trial period ended on Feb. 1. Wal-Mart spokesperson Tara Raddohl says that upon expiration, "our suppliers will begin using the information packaging scorecard to make better purchasing decisions and we'll be able to track the sustainable changes our suppliers are making to their packaging.
"With further development of the scorecard and continued collection of data that is input from our suppliers, we'll be able to more accurately measure our progress toward the [5 percent goal.]"
As of September, more than 3,400 companies had logged onto the scorecard web site, with 13,000 products entered into the system; Raddohl says she expects those numbers to increase in the coming months.
Within the textiles division, "we've made great progress at all levels of the supply chain in working with our suppliers to create more sustainable packaging," Raddohl says.
"From reducing the size of apparel packaging to using more eco-friendly materials in the manufacturing process, our suppliers have welcomed Wal-Mart's commitment to packaging reduction and are eager to continue the journey to become more sustainable."
As Wal-Mart assesses the program, it is finding that textile and apparel suppliers have "one of the greatest opportunities," to achieve packaging reduction through packing shipping cases more efficiently, she says, acknowledging that apparel suppliers face particularly tricky challenges regarding how to most efficiently ship products with hangers, because of their odd shape.
To help with its initiative, the company also has hosted a "Sustainable Packaging Fair" for the past two years to connect product suppliers with packaging suppliers in order to achieve solutions.
As for its own waste reduction efforts, Wal-Mart has implemented a "sandwich bale program," in which cardboard balers have been transformed into key tools to reduce plastic waste. Through the program, Wal- Mart recycled 1 million pounds of plastic hangers in the month of November alone, says Raddohl; a packaging shift is also underway with post-consumer waste in cardboard hangtags and with the development of plastisol- free tagless heat labeling.

Levi Strauss Signature

Goal: To reduce the total amount of labeling on its products as well as to drive sustainability even further through the supply chain by educating consumers about the ways that they can reduce the environmental footprint of their denim through eco-friendly laundering habits.
How it is achieving this goal: The iconic brand has been working with Avery Dennison for the past year and a half to try to reduce the total number of tags on its product by "distilling" information and condensing it onto one tag - the current goal is to transfer information from the waistband tag to the size sticker, so that it can eliminate the need for the former.
The company also is employing tags that are made from 100 percent recycled paper, 30 percent of which is post-consumer waste, says Shari Hatch, director of brand communications.
"And that's just the packaging piece," she says. "Levi Strauss & Co. as a whole is working to find ways to reduce our environmental footprint. We have strict...guidelines around wastewater, waste management, pollution prevention and much more."
That includes driving sustainable practices through the lifecycle of the product, even after it's left the store.
Why? Because "a lot of the energy consumption actually happens after the consumer has taken the product home, when it's being washed and dried," she says. 
So the company is working to develop ways to educate the consumer on proper and less-wasteful clothing care: Specifically, washing jeans in cold water and air-drying them; this not only is a significant energy saver, but also much improves the appearance and longevity of the jeans, says Hatch.
To educate its consumer, the company is putting that type of information on its web site and looking for other ways to spread the message - such as through in-store signage -without adding any extra labels to the product.
"The consumer portion is really a significant piece" when it comes to energy consumption throughout the lifecycle of the product, concludes Hatch. //
Michael D. Cole is associate editor of Apparel and can be reached at [email protected]. Editor in chief Jordan K. Speer and contributing editor Thomas J. Ryan also contributed to this report.
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