As part of its ongoing quest to clean up the global apparel supply chain, the Natural Resources Defense Council will bring on board more than 50 additional Chinese textile mills to its Clean By Design program on Sept. 15.
For the next go-round, the NRDC has zeroed in on the Suzhou area in China’s Jiangsu province, which is home to more than 600 mills. Located not far from Shanghai, Jiangsu’s manufacturing sector is known for such progressive practices as partnering with NGOs and creating environmentally centered green cities. Among other things, the NRDC is familiarizing companies with its Demand-Side Management tools to allow them to better monitor energy usage and to try to “beat the peaks,” as best they can, said Linda Greer, director of the NRDC’s health and environmental program.
In addition, Clean By Design has partnered with the Sustainable Apparel Coalition in Suzhou, which is said to represent more than 30 percent of global apparel manufacturing. With a diverse base of members that includes Target, Kohl’s, Kering, Nike and Adidas among others, the SAC is committed to benchmarking factories’ environmental performances throughout their respective supply chains. Using the self-assessment online tool known as the Higg Index, members enter data about their respective business’ impact areas and are then given standardized performance scores that can be shared with current and future supply chain partners. Scores are anonymized and aggregated, which allows businesses to measure their results against the industry.
Clean By Design is counting on the SAC, which is tied to 3,300 factories and more than 300 mills, to broaden its reach considerably, Greer said. More importantly, the aim is to improve scores by having more Chinese mills plug into the Higg Index and other tools.
To date, the NRDC already has 33 mills in China participating in the Clean By Design initiative, and next month’s additions will bolster the tally to more than 80 mills. While that is not expected to drastically affect the number of American brands, Greer noted that Wal-Mart and New Balance are two of the newer ones that have come into the fold.
One-fifth of the world’s industrial water pollution and 10 percent of all climate pollution is generated by the textile sector, which uses 20,000 chemicals — many of them carcinogenic — to make your clothes, according to Greer. All in all, Greer is driven by improving the apparel industry’s sustainability efforts for the long haul. “There are many exciting pilot programs, but what we’re trying to do is spend equal time bringing them up to scale, because the scale of the program is so high,” she said.
The NRDC’s campaign, and Greer specifically, have attracted a good deal of publicity this month, thanks to the Stella McCartney-written essay about Greer in the September issue of Vanity Fair. The Washington, D.C.-based activist posed for an Annie Leibovitz portrait amidst a mountain of clothes in the 2ReWear clothing recycling plant. But Greer said she had no idea that McCartney, whom she knows through their shared commitment to sustainability, had written the profile. “Stella could write it because she knows all about it. She’s the real deal,” Greer said.
So much so, that McCartney recently did her own “recon mission” in Italy (similar to a Greer-led one that the NRDC did in China) to seek out potential factories for Clean By Design, Greer said. Through McCartney’s search and her affiliation with Kering, the company has upped its involvement from three factories in Italy to 25. As a result, Kering has seen a 30 percent reduction in CO2 emissions and energy usage in those mills, as well as up to a five percent reduction in water usage, a company spokeswoman said. A “Phase 2” rollout to other mills within the group is due to start in the Spring, she said.