Sustainable Apparel Coalition

By China Water Risk 13 December, 2011

Summary of the 35 member coalition set up to develop a sustainability index

Since April 2011, created initial version of the indexing tool measuring environmental and soclal/labour impacts
35 member companies to beta test this in their supply chains
Water use & quality are part of the goals but no industry specific targets set

The Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC) is an informally governed coalition with an initial goal of developing and road testing a sustainability index. Participating organizations formed SAC believing there was opportunity for a more sustainable and innovative apparel and footwear industry that could not be achieved without collaboration and collective action.

SAC had a first meeting in April 2010, and since then has created an initial version of the indexing tool measuring both the environmental and social/labor impacts of manufacturing apparel.

The current version of the Sustainable Apparel Index is based on the Outdoor Industry Association Eco Index and the Nike’s Apparel Environmental Apparel Tool.  SAC will soon begin beta testing the tool in the supply chains of its membership, which currently amounts to about 35 companies, including suppliers, manufacturers and retailers. The strategy was initially to keep the SAC group small enough to work fast and to align quickly around challenges or differences. Once the tool is developed, however, the idea is to open membership to the apparel and footwear sectors, NGOs, government agencies, and other stakeholders in a way that is affordable to any company of any size.

Current members include: Adidas, Arvind Mills, C&A, Duke Center for Sustainability and Commerce, Environmental Defense Fund, Esprit, Esquel, Gap Inc., H&M, HanesBrands, Intradeco, JC Penney, Kohl’s Department Stores, Lenzing, Levi Strauss & Co., LF USA, a division of Li & Fung Limited, Marks & Spencer, Mountain Equipment Co-op, New Balance, Nike, Nordstrom, Otto Group, Outdoor Industry Association, Patagonia, Pentland Brands, REI, TAL Apparel, Target, Timberland, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Verité, VF Corp, and Walmart.

SAC Vision

An apparel industry that produces no unnecessary environmental harm and has a positive impact on the people and communities associated with its activities..

SAC’s vision and purpose are based shared beliefs:

  • The environmental and social challenges around the global apparel supply system affect the entire industry
  • These challenges reflect systemic issues that no company can solve alone
  • Pre-competitive collaboration can accelerate improvement in environmental and social performance for the industry as a whole and reduce cost for individual companies
  • Collaboration enables companies to focus more resources on product and process innovation
  • All stakeholders want to see credible, practical, universal standards and tools for defining and measuring environmental and social performance

Desired Environmental and Social Outcomes

Water Use & Quality:

  • Improve water-use efficiency and/or re-use in cultivation or production of raw materials (e.g. cotton) and the manufacturing of apparel products
  • Minimize the volume and chemical constituents of water discharges associated with apparel manufacturing and eliminate negative impact on local communities
  • Reduce the need for water use in garment care by challenging conventional washing practices and developing alternative approaches

Energy/Greenhouse Gas:

  • Minimize direct and embedded energy use and carbon in apparel
  • Drive innovative design and technology to create apparel that mitigates other carbon

impact (such as reducing the need for heating and air conditioning systems)


  • Develop effective uses for textile waste, creating a second life for materials
  • Commit to minimizing waste in operations, supply chain, and end-of-life of apparel products


  • Reduce the use of chemicals and potentially hazardous materials that pose health or environmental risks if not properly handled in cultivation or production of raw materials, and manufacturing


  • Collaborate with industry peers and supply chain partners to achieve full life cycle transparency
  • Consider the social and ethical performance impact of all companies and products
  • Ensure all workplaces are fair, safe, and non-discriminatory, including zero exposure to toxic chemicals

Design Principles for the Sustainable Apparel Index:

The index must:

  • Have measureable impact:
    • Deliver business value to companies
    • Drive quantifiable improvement in social and environmental impact
  • Drive behavior change and promote continuous improvement:
    • Be easy to use and understand for users
    • Encourage industry to engage the supply chain in measurement
    • Encourage pooling of primary data to update the industry average over time and raise the bar
    • Be dynamic yet well-planned
    • Enable “predictive” process/product design decisions and “reactive” end-product evaluation
    • Weight factors based on ability to drive impact
  • Be credible:
    • Employ a life cycle-based approach that focuses on priority hotspots and uses 100% transparent, widely agreed-upon, best available measurement methods
    • Have a 100% transparent scoring algorithm and enable 3rd party verification of results
    • Be co-created with broad involvement/ownership of the industry through a global, multi-stakeholder process
    • Use consistent, widely agreed upon impact area weightings
    • Have a self-sustaining governance and revenue model to cover costs
    • Focus on B2B decision-making first, with the expectation that consumer-facing scores will exist in the future


China Water Risk recently spoke to Rick Ridgeway, Chairman of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition in his capacity as Patagonia’s VP of Environmental Initiatives. Also included in the conversation was Jill Dumain, Director of Environmental Strategy at Patagonia, which is a longtime leader in sustainable manufacturing, founded by environmentalist Yvon Chouinard in 1973. Read this interview.

China Water Risk
Author: China Water Risk
We believe regardless of whether we care for the environment that water risks affect us all – as investors, businesses and individuals. Water risks are fundamental to future decision making and growth patterns in global economies. Water scarcity has emerged as a critical sustainability issue for China's economy and since water powers the economy, we aim to highlight these risks inherent in each sector. In addition, we write about current trends in the global water industry, analyze changes occurring both regionally and globally, as well as providing explanations on the new technologies that are revolutionizing this industry.
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