Walmart Throws its Weight Behind Greener Supply Chains

The world's largest retailer, Walmart, and Sweden's H&M have committed to helping create a more eco-friendly apparel supply chain. The retailers will work with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), which has developed 10 specific best practices for reducing water and energy use—and not incidentally, cutting manufacturing costs—as part of its Clean by Design program.

Other retailers and brands collaborating with NRDC in the Clean by Design effort include Gap, Levi, Nike, Marks & Spencer, and the Hong Kong sourcing firm Li and Fung.
Based on the commitment, which was announced at the 2010 Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) meeting last week, Walmart agrees that the mills selected to implement NRDC's program will provide benchmark data on water and energy use at the start of the assessment. The retailer will be responsible for tracking and verifying the reductions they achieve. H&M, which operates more than 2,000 stores worldwide, launched a similar agreement with NRDC earlier this month.

The NRDC practices have already been shown to save money. A case study with the Redbud textile factory in Changshu, China, a Walmart supplier, showed that the mill's adoption of some of NRDC's best practices, involving an initial investment of $72,000, have led to annual savings of $840,000.

"People don't think of the fashion industry as polluting the environment like chemical or steel manufacturing, but in fact it is one of the biggest polluters in China," said Linda Greer, director of the health program at NRDC and the creator of Clean by Design.

Textile dyeing and finishing consumes large quantities of clean water and energy and discharges a host of toxic chemicals if not properly treated, according to the NRDC. Textile manufacturing consumes and pollutes as much as 200 tons of water per ton of fabric produced, along with considerable carbon dioxide emissions.
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