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  November 1st, 2017 | Written by

Initiative to Accelerate Environmental Impacts in Apparel Supply Chains

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  • Group including Gap Inc. and HSBC Holdings join to advance projects with environmental promise for supply chains.
  • There is widespread awareness of the environmental hazards within the apparel and footwear industry.
  • Few pilot projects in apparel and footwear supply chains are operating at scale.

In an effort to galvanize around collective action in the apparel and footwear industry, a group of industry leaders launched the Apparel Impact Institute (AII), which is designed to work with brands and manufacturers to select, fund, and scale projects that dramatically improve the sustainability impact of the apparel and footwear industry.

Despite widespread awareness of the environmental hazards within the apparel and footwear industry, few of the pilot projects designed to reduce impacts are operating at the scale needed to meet the critical environmental and social outcomes brands and consumers are seeking. The AII will identify promising projects that are working in limited geography, for example, or are targeting a narrow problem yet show potential for broader application. By applying the appropriate resources, the AII will help bring them to scale more quickly.

“Through the Higg Index, we’ve seen incredible industry collaboration when it comes to standardizing sustainability measurements,” said Jason Kibbey, CEO of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition. “It’s critical that we also take collective action to put that data to work. The Apparel Impact Institute allows us to act jointly on scaling practices that have a positive impact on people, planet, and the whole industry, while simultaneously helping brands and manufacturers improve their Higg Index scores.”

The Higg Index is a suite of self-assessment tools that provides a holistic overview of the sustainability performance of a product or company.

The AII’s first project will focus on Mill Improvement, one of the most environmentally impactful segments of clothing production. Specifically, the AII has selected the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Clean by Design program, which reduces energy, water and chemical use to scale mill improvement across the industry and across geographies. Later this year, the AII will focus on how to support and expand mill improvement initiatives globally.

“IDH strongly believes that the time has come for the apparel sector to join forces to have an impact at scale,” said Ted van der Put, Executive Representative at IDH. “By working as a sector initiative with a wide representation of leaders in the apparel sector, and by aligning with existing initiatives, we can accelerate implementation, and avoid fragmentation and duplication of similar initiatives. This will scale the impact on Sustainable Development Goals related to environment and social conditions.”

“At Target, we know that our decisions have the potential to impact millions of people around the globe, from the people who create our products to the families they support and the communities where they live, and we’re committed to leveraging Target’s scale for good,” said Ivanka Mamic, senior director of responsible sourcing, Target. “Industry collaboration is vital to driving change and ensuring a sustainable apparel industry. We support the Apparel Impact Institute’s analytical approach to collaboration and think it will provide a solid foundation for tracking progress and measuring outcomes, which will help propel the apparel industry forward.”

The AII came together using seed funding from the Sustainable Trade Initiative (IDH) and Target, and with additional financial support from PVH Corp., Gap Inc. and HSBC Holdings plc. The Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC) is providing industry support and access to Higg Index data. The parties have engaged San Francisco management consultancy Schaffer&Combs for project management support of the Apparel Impact Institute’s early stage activities.

HSBC, the only bank to join the effort as an inaugural funder, is committed to greening the supply chain, according to Patricia Gomes, North America Head of Global Trade and Receivables Finance. “We can provide to our apparel clients deals that enable them to offer to their suppliers financial incentives for meeting and improving sustainability performance,” she said.

Future projects for the coalition will include closed-loop recycling and worker well-being, for example, and will expand to include additional brands and manufacturers in the apparel and footwear industry.