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Green Movement Said to Bolster Bottom Line

Experts at eco-friendly firms cite the goal of connecting with consumers.

NEW YORK — From Wal-Mart Stores Inc. to The Walt Disney Co.’s Disney stores, more companies are adding environmentally friendly merchandise to their shelves in an effort to connect with shoppers, experts said.

They spoke at a roundtable, “A Focus on Greening the Supply Chain,” put on by the International Oeko-Tex Association and Textile Insight at the DuPont Corian Design Studio here on Sept. 24.

Caterina Conti, executive vice president, chief administrative officer and general counsel for Anvil Knitwear Inc., said her company embraces Oeko-Tex’s environmental certification and also makes an eco collection of organic and transitional cotton.

“People are asking for [green products], they are not asking about price,” she said, acknowledging that costs tend to be slightly higher. “Companies are looking to align their brand with a product that adds value to their brand.”

Recently, The Walt Disney Co. converted its graphic T-shirt program in all 200 Disney stores to organic cotton, Conti said, pointing to the Anvil licensee as a company that establishes a relationship with its customers by communicating the significance of choosing an eco-friendly product.

Like Disney, Anvil engages customers by allowing them to track newly purchased T-shirts at trackmyt.com, a Web site that follows the order from the farm to the distribution center.

The term “green” is usually met with “opposition or confusion,” said Blink Dina Dunn, international communications manager at International Oeko-Tex. One way to “cut through” the uncertainty is with eco-certification that ensures that textiles are free from harmful levels of more than 100 potentially dangerous substances.

With its “criteria catalogue,” called the Oeko-Tex Standard 100, the company tests textiles for a variety of “harmful substances,” as textiles travel through various stages of the supply chain, Dunn said, explaining that this provides consumers with “uniform” certification and helps “clean up the supply chain.”

Traceability of products engages the consumer and adds accountability to the manufacturer and retailer, according to Australian-based NewMerino, which traces and manages the production of Australian wool from the farm to the store.

Denine Woodrow, the owner and manager of DP Woodrow & Co. and U.S. representative for NewMerino, said, “Part of the process is about engaging farmers and connecting them with retailers.”

Knowing where the product has been and where it is going enhances its value, she said, noting that this is especially true with wool because retailers are “increasingly sensitive” that they are purchasing “un-mulesed wool.” Mulesing, which is often practiced by Australian farmers, is the surgical removal of pieces of skin around the tail of a sheep to prevent “flystrike,” or flies laying eggs in the area leading to infestation.

NewMerino allows retailers to track their wool shipments all the way back to the sheep, Woodrow said, adding, “Some brands are naming the sheep so they can tell their stories online to consumers.”

Although many of these technologies require additional investment, panelists agreed that they involve the consumer in a unique way, which is beneficial in an environment where most shoppers are limiting their purchases, Anvil’s Conti said.

“Marketing teams can build a platform around sustainability, she said. “You develop more value if you start at the design level. It’s an opportunity.”