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Walmart, PVH Set Plans for Supply Chain Approach to Sustainability

Walmart is taking significant steps in the way it produces apparel and soft home goods, while working toward improvement in the supply chain.

Speaking at the Cotton Incorporated Sustainability Summit in San Diego, California Wednesday—which coincided with Walmart’s own sustainability milestone summit—Ken Lanshe, vice president of general merchandise, technical and quality at Walmart, discussed the company’s initiatives.

In an effort to source more sustainable fibers, Walmart will increase the use of recycled polyester fiber, setting a goal of using 50 percent recycled content by 2025. It also has plans to source 100 percent more sustainable cotton for its private brands.

“Our vision for textiles is that we want them to be sustainably designed and produced,” Lanshe said. “In cotton, this means working to continuously improve the environmental and social performance of the fields where cotton is grown, sustainable land use methods and soil management.”

Walmart defines sustainable cotton as being grown and processed in an environmentally and socially responsible manner. Included in this sourcing umbrella will be organic, recycled and traceable cotton, and cotton grown and certified by the Better Cotton Initiative.

At the same time, Walmart said by 2022, its U.S. stores will source apparel and home textile products solely from suppliers working with textile mills that use the Sustainable Apparel Coalition’s (SAC) Higg Index Facility Environmental Module to measure and help improve environmental performance. Lanshe said about 40 percent of suppliers “are already there.”

Jason Kibbey, CEO of the SAC, who also spoke at the Cotton Incorporated summit, said, “You can’t have sustainability without business values. We use the HIGG Index we built as a globally trusted standard for sustainability and we want to see the product lifecycle achieve transparency. We hear a lot that sustainability is a journey. But it’s a journey that needs to improve.”

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Toward that end, Kibbey said SAC will soon launch a product lifecycle assessment module, a “cradle-to-grave” measurement of a garment. The module, he said, is driven by the material impact of a product and the need to assess “how it is designed, how it is manufactured, how it is transported and how it is used.”

Consumers are starting to ask for more sustainable products, which challenges companies to define that for them and build their trust. “By improving a product’s environmental and social performance, companies can assure consumers that they share their desire and demands for transparency,” Kibbey said.

Lanshe said Walmart is also prioritizing sustainable chemistry, setting a goal to reduce the discharge of priority chemicals from the textile manufacturing process for apparel, footwear and home goods.

At its concurrent sustainability milestone summit, Walmart announced that for the first time, checkout carousels at its U.S. stores will include reusable bags available to customers for purchase. The aim of the program is to help reduce plastic waste and increase customer convenience by placing reusable bags in easy to find and highly frequented sections of its stores. This follows the retailer’s recent announcement of a series of plastic waste reduction goals that seek to advance the sustainability of its private brand packaging by making it 100 percent recyclable, reusable or industrially compostable by 2025.

All of Walmart’s sustainability initiatives, Lanshe told Sourcing Journal, are “iterative,” meaning “we can’t do it alone,” rather, they must be done in conjunction with suppliers, factories and mills.

“With that said, you also have to be committed as an organization,” he said.

Walmart feels it will be able to reach its goals in cotton and recycled polyester, though it will face challenges ahead as its goals are U.S.-based but it’s sourcing network is global.

PVH has its own plans to clean up its supply chain.

Marissa Pagnani McGowan, senior vice president of corporate responsibility at PVH Corp., said as a company that uses 41.6 billion liters of water a year to make 30 million shirts at an estimated 800 factories, PVH “has the opportunity to make a difference.”

Several studies and surveys have shown, as McGowan noted, that consumers want sustainable fashion, particularly the Gen Z age group, which stands by its values and will spend accordingly. As such, PVH is taking additional steps to make a difference in the space.

“I’m happy to announce at this Cotton Sustainability Conference that PVH has committed to the use of 100 percent sustainable cotton by 2025,” McGowan said.