From H&M making 2014 the year fast fashion consumers became “conscious” of affordable organic clothing, to The North Face and Patagonia proving that outdoor brands can indeed do good for the outdoor world, the last 12 months in sustainability has seen apparel giants and retail rulers expand their commitments and set new industry standards.
Fueling brands’ eco efforts is growing consumer demand for sustainable products, as our No. 1 story confirms. The annual growth rate for sustainable commodities reached 41 percent, which can largely be traced to a “growing recognition of the failure of public action in addressing a host of sustainability issues.” As a result, more brands and organizations are taking the responsibility to create a more sustainable supply chain into their own hands.
Here’s a look at the leading sustainable success stories of 2014 and the commitments made for a more sustainable 2015 and beyond.
Sustainability standards have grown considerably in recent years and, in turn, production of sustainable commodities like organic cotton has seen record growth in terms of market share. In a report titled, “The State of Sustainability Initiatives (SSI) Review 2014: Standards and the Green Economy,” researchers noted a 41 percent average annual growth rate for commodities produced in compliance with a voluntary sustainability standard. This far outpaces the 2 percent average annual growth rate of corresponding conventional commodity markets.
More than just a “feel-good” fiber, organic cotton has now been proven better for the environment than conventional cotton, according to a study by Textile Exchange. The organic process showed reduced global warming potential, lower soil erosion, less water use and less energy demand.
H&M was the world’s biggest user of organic cotton in 2013, and the retailer’s use of the fiber increased 29 percent over last year, according to Textile Exchange’s 2013 Organic Cotton Market Report. The fast fashion retailer has consistently been the biggest user of organic cotton, ranking second in 2012 and first in 2011 and 2010. Not far behind as major organic cotton users were Dutch fashion chain C&A and sportswear brand Puma.
The Lenzing Group began production at its new Tencel jumbo production facility–the largest in the world–located in Austria. The factory marks the first time in which a single production line with an annual nominal capacity of 67,000 tons was installed. It’s three times larger than previous Tencel production lines and it is expected to boost Lenzing’s annual production capacity to about 220,000 tons each year, up from 155,000 tons.
Outdoor apparel manufacturer and retailer The North Face, a division of VF Corp., recently shared a series updates to its CSR initiatives, including plans to use 100 percent recycled polyester fiber exclusively in its products by 2016. With almost 80 percent of all of the brand’s clothing made from polyester, the decision to move toward recycled materials was an obvious step in a more sustainable direction.
Global fiber producer INVISTA has introduced a new bio-derived spandex that uses fiber from a renewable source made from dextrose derived from corn. The use of renewable feedstock results in lower CO2 emissions than spandex produced using traditional raw materials. The sustainable spandex fiber is the only commercial offering of its kind.
UK retailers have pledged to reduce adverse impacts on the environment and increase sustainability across the supply chain over the next six years. The British Retail Consortium (BRC) launched a new report titled, “A Better Retailing Climate: Driving Resource Efficiency” that outlines an ambitious environmental strategy for the twenty-five signatory retailers which collectively represent half of UK retailers by turnover.
Asos, Debenhams, Marks & Spencer, Boots, T.K. Maxx and Figleaves have all signed on to the eco-endeavor.
Nike Inc. is making strides in sustainability with both its products and processes as it redefines growth to preserve the earth’s constrained resources. The company released its Sustainable Business Performance Summary for FY12/13, outlining its progress against previous targets mentioned in the FY10/11 report. Nike has reduced its energy use, water consumption, waste generation and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and is working to create a leaner supply chain by sourcing from fewer and better factories.
Sportswear brand Adidas has changed the way they develop product by focusing on waste-reduction without sacrificing performance or style. Both the Running and Adidas by Stella McCartney teams have reworked the way they make patterns to increase efficiency and reduce fabric waste.
Marks and Spencer is making strides in the amount of Better Cotton it sources. In its Plan A 2020 sustainability commitment half-year update, the UK retailer announced that 28 percent of M&S cotton—or about 50 million product sold annually—is now grown to meet Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) standards. Products include underwear, school uniforms, dresses and bedding.