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Garment Industry Gets an Eco-Friendly Makeover

The global garment industry may see a complete shift to toxic-free textiles by 2020 as eco-groups push for fashion without pollution.

Greenpeace began its Detox Campaign in 2011 with the goal of challenging major clothing brands and retailers to cease all discharge of hazardous chemicals from their supply chains and products.

Since then, 15 big brands including Nike, Adidas, Puma, H&M, Marks & Spencer, C&A, Li-Ning, Zara, Mango, Esprit, Levi’s, Uniqlo, Benetton, Victoria’s Secret, G-Star Raw and Valentino have publicly committed to the cause.

Some of those same members formed the Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals (ZDHC) Group in support of the Detox Campaign. ZDHC’s driving mission is to transform the global apparel and footwear industry to one that “delivers high quality products, using safe chemistries, operating in ways that keep communities free from unintended, downstream environmental impacts.”

ZDHC recently revised its Joint Roadmap–an outline of actionable plans for achieving their zero toxicity goals–to reflect a better understanding of the industry’s challenges and incorporate feedback from stakeholders about how to best make the move to manufacturing environmentally friendly textiles.

The first goal of the eco-group is to eliminate or substitute all hazardous chemicals from the manufacturing processes of its members. Other objectives ZDHC aims to achieve by 2020 include developing a process to screen and get rid of chemicals in the industry, create common chemical assessment tools and offer guidelines on best practices for supply chain stakeholders.

“We wish to move the industry to a new level of transparency in chemical usage, but also must understand the technical capacity, cost, regulatory implications and confidential business information issues for individual chemical suppliers and manufacturing suppliers to meet this expectation,” version two of ZDHC’s Joint Roadmap notes.

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To do that, the group is focused on keeping plans realistic and establishing industry-wide best practices that willing suppliers could easily implement.

In the last year, ZDHC completed chemical use surveys and testing at factories in Bangladesh, China, India, Taiwan and Vietnam. They’ve created a publically available comprehensive inventory of chemicals used in the textile industry and worked to identify safer processes to incentivize chemical suppliers to invest in these alternatives. They are still working out which substances will be deemed “hazardous,” but by the end of 2015, ZDHC plans to publish a list of chemicals that should be phased out, including a list of restricted substances that are added to the product or used on the factory floor in processes like equipment cleaning.

The group is also working to develop a system of disclosure, created in partnership with the supply chain that would allow consumers and communities to access information about potential exposures to chemicals.

With information readily available to suppliers and shoppers, ZDHC hopes for a more seamless transition to eliminating toxins.

While ZDHC will help raise standards, many clothing brands do not belong to the group, have not signed up to the Detox Campaign, and their websites lack any information about hazardous chemicals in their supply chains, according to Chemical Watch.

Greenpeace says it’s time for more brands to join the movement against “toxic fashion” and to “detox” their practices.

International brands are well positioned to do their part in aiding the eco-friendly transformation by selecting compliant suppliers and using design and production processes that can be completed without the use of chemicals. But while their participation is vital, ZDHC says they still have to get other key stakeholders on board before they can effect real change.

They have partnered with the Global Social Compliance Programme (GSCP) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Chemicals in Products (CiP) initiative to collaborate on this effort.

ZDHC says recruiting influential stakeholders will be an ongoing task and they will continue to identify and reach out to those who can help change the apparel industry to an environmentally compliant one. The group has also planned a ZDHC Summit in Asia in 2014.