Energy Star Ratings Arrive for Soft Goods
By Tom Ryan
A coalition of major apparel and footwear companies is working on
an environmental ranking system to help companies benchmark and measure their
environmental footprint. Mimicking the Energy Star series on appliances, the
Eco Index tool encompasses guidelines, performance indicators, footprint metrics
and a comparative scoring system against a six-stage lifecycle approach.
development since 2007 by the Eco Working Group, the Eco Index, actually a
software tool, poses a series of questions to companies on their environmental
and labor practices. Some require answers from factories and other suppliers.
It then assigns a score representing a percentage of a perfect score.
the major benefit is providing manufacturers with a common guideline to gauge
environment and human-rights impacts when designing their products. A pilot
program will roll out this fall.
“I think so many companies want to do the right thing environmentally
but not every company has the ability to understand what the right thing is,” said
Jill Dumain, director of environmental strategy at Patagonia and chair of the
Eco Working Group Advisory Council, in a statement.
But eventually and more controversially,
consumers are expected to see the ratings to measure how green the products
they’re buying are.
According to a Wall Street Journal article, a core problem
with publicly announcing Eco Index ratings is that their accuracy is tough
to verify. All information is self-reported by each company with no proof required.
The survey also includes a lot of estimates and grading systems vary depending
on each category. Participants also have yet to agree on whether the index
should be communicated as a single number on a hang tag, like Energy Star,
or in more detail that may involve pushing consumers to visit websites.
Jeff Swartz, CEO at Timberland, told the Journal that
he’s frustrated that the Eco Index coalition isn’t moving faster. Timberland
is already putting its own version of green ratings on its packages and website.
“Our industry is flirting with getting this right,” said Mr. Swartz.
vice president of social and environmental sustainability, Michael Kobori,
said the tool will be publicly available “as soon as we can get
everybody to agree” on how to communicate it.
“It’s got to be uniform in order to be useful,” added Rick Ridgeway,
vice president of environmental initiatives for Patagonia.
The coalition also
includes Nike, Brooks Sports, Adidas and Columbia Sportswear as well as retailers
such as REI and Target.
Discussion Questions: What do you think of the Eco Index rating system
for apparel and footwear? What lessons from the process of developing nutritional
food ratings guidelines can be applied to establishing green ratings around
- Eco Index – Eco Working Group
industry companies invited to test beta version of industry-wide environmental
assessment tool – Outdoor Industry Association
- How Green Is My Sneaker? – The Wall Street Journal