By  on April 10, 2007

The cost benefits of environmentally sustainable initiatives convince more businesses to go green.

Going green is more than just fashionable.

As retailers and apparel manufacturers pay more attention to operating in environmentally sustainable ways, they are finding some of the changes help boost the bottom line.

Fashion has a track record of being sensitive to social issues, be it Liz Claiborne Inc.'s fight against domestic violence or the myriad of issues Kenneth Cole champions in his ad campaigns. Now the industry has many reasons for going green, including a new awareness of global warming and a sense of moral responsibility, as well as a desire to market to "earthy" types.

But it is cold, hard cash that makes environmental sustainability more than a corporate fad, said experts.

"When you get right down to it, there's one major driver and that's money," said Rick Horwitch, vice president of solutions and business development for consumer products at Bureau Veritas, a service company specializing in quality, health, safety and environmental and social accountability.

Fashion firms are trying to do any number of things that use less energy, from installing more efficient lightbulbs in stores and redesigning packaging to using solar power and more environmentally friendly building materials for stores.

"All of these things, they're good things to do, they are socially and environmentally responsible things to do, but when the day is over, all of them represent taking inefficiencies out of the system, which equals money," said Horwitch. "Companies are going to continue to do it."

Still, Salman Ehsan, director of softlines for international sales and U.S. operations at SGS Consumer Testing Services, sounded a cautious note and said it was still too early to tell to what degree American companies will go green.

"Ultimately, for the U.S., it will come down to a few factors such as consumer awareness and demand for [eco-friendly products], as well as willingness to pay a premium for them [given the higher raw materials costs for eco-products]," said Ehsan.

However, he said, the increasingly global nature of business might spur U.S. companies to continue on a path to eco-efficiency, particularly companies that do business in places where going green is already popular, such as Europe.

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