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American Eagle’s 20-Year Action Plan for Sustainable Manufacturing to ‘Create Systemic Changes’

Sustainability is a long-term commitment, and American Eagle Outfitters (AEO) just announced a promise that looks 20 years into the future.

The teen specialty retailer announced Thursday goals to reduce energy and water within its production supply chain and to source more sustainable raw materials through 2023 and beyond. And many of the company’s goals focus on denim production.

By 2023, AEO pledged to ensure that 50 percent of water used in its laundries is recycled, and that water usage in its jeans production is reduced by 30 percent. The company will also “ensure that wastewater from water-intensive facilities is free from hazardous chemicals.”

Across its supply chain, AEO said the cotton used in products will be 100 percent sustainably sourced by 2023. It also pledged to use 50 percent sustainable polyester and ensure that 100 percent of viscose is from non-endangered forests.

AEO’s long view includes efforts to achieve carbon neutrality in all of its owned and operated facilities and employee business travel by 2030. The same year, the company aims to reduce its carbon emissions by 40 percent. By 2040, AEO aims to increase its carbon emissions reduction to 60 percent.

“At AEO, we focus on youth and their optimism toward the future, so building a better world for generations to come is fundamental to our brands, values and purpose,” American Eagle executive chairman and CEO Jay Schottenstein said. “We pledge to accelerate sustainability improvements across our entire organization, and throughout the supply chain, holding ourselves accountable through the adoption of science-based targets. As a leading retailer, we are dedicated to working across the industry to create systemic changes in garment manufacturing.”

The retailer’s commitment to sustainability stretches back to 2013, when it set wastewater management standards to ensure runoff was safe to be discharged into the environment. In 2015, it developed a program to use customers’ old jeans as insulation for affordable homes.

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The new goals are complemented by ongoing eco efforts like reducing the use of plastic in stores, implementing a jeans recycling program for customers and committing to recycling in its owned facilities.

AEO is also dedicated to mitigating the effects of climate change and is a member of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition and Better Cotton Initiative. The company pledged to the CanopyStyle Initiative, a nonprofit that encourages fashion brands and retailers to eliminate the use of trees from endangered forests in their rayon/viscose supply chains.

No longer a priority for only off-the-grid indie brands, major denim labels and retailers this year unveiled action plans to recalibrate their sustainability efforts.

This month Guess announced plans to produce 25 percent of its denim in accordance with its own Guess Eco guideline by 2021. And in April, Old Navy rolled out a series of action plans to source sustainable cotton and to reduce water in its denim manufacturing.