Competitors Collaborating for Industry Change
Several years ago our CEO Jeff Swartz, inspired by nutrition labels on food packaging, suggested we come up with a label for telling our consumers the environmental good and bad associated with our product. Thus grew the Green Index, which is our rating for the environmental impacts associated with our footwear. What started as a small manual initiative has expanded to the point where, in the near future, we’ll be able to score all our shoes automatically. This is a great accomplishment that will help us make better, more environmentally minded decisions about our product.
While we were making these strides internally, REI (the largest outdoor retailer in the US) took notice. In 2006, their corporate executives met individually with the major brands at the Outdoor Retailer tradeshow to share our Green Index initiative and ask if they would help make it an industry initiative.
“Imagine,” said the head of product integrity at REI, “if we all measured and informed consumers about the environmental impact of our products. That would spur sustainable innovation and dramatically improve the environmental performance of our supply chain.”
The brands they rallied met with us in the basement of a food co-op in Salt Lake City, Utah. Talk about grassroots! What’s evolved since is an international collaboration of the US and European outdoor industries, the Sustainable Fashion Consortium in Hong Kong; the World Federation of Sporting Goods; the snow and water sports industries and others — more than 200 brands in our industry alone, including everyone from the North Face and Patagonia to Petzl. Our group, called the Eco Working Group, has developed an industry version of the Green Index – an index that can be applied to any type of product be it a tent or a pair of shoes. It was rated one of the 10 Most Hopeful Green Business Stories of 2010 by GreenBiz.com.
It hasn’t been an easy path to get so many different brands with such diverse products to collaborate, but the process has created a terrific product and drawn attention from surprising organizations. Walmart is one. This week they along with Gap; Nike; H&M; Levi Strauss; Adidas; Target and other global leaders in the apparel and footwear industry announced that they are collaborating with our Outdoor Industry effort to adopt our index as a common means to measure and improve the environmental performance of our supply chain. While we still have a way to go to get to Jeff’s vision of a label that allows consumers to compare the goodness of shoes, like food … we just got one long step closer.
Timberland + Outdoor Industry + world’s largest apparel retailers = promise of sustainable change.