The Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC) recently launched the beta phase of their Apparel Index, a system that evaluates and rates the environmental and social impact of clothing items. Support for this type of universal rating system is gaining momentum across fashion retail and manufacturing companies, as increasing numbers of consumers demand transparency about the origins of their apparel. The impact that clothing production has on our environment doesn’t end at fabric and dye, and the SAC’s Apparel Index provides us with the ability to dig deeper. Right down to the adhesive that seals the packing materials, even seemingly insignificant choices are considered in the overall score.
The long term goal for the Apparel Index is for consumers to access sustainability information via the clothing article’s tag. A score between one and one hundred on the tag signifies the environmental impact of the materials, manufacturing, and shipping of that particular item. In order for the Apparel Index to calculate this number, designers or manufacturers are required to enter information about the garment into the Excel-based Apparel Index tool. The tool automatically evaluates and rates individual aspects of the garment, and aggregates this information for the overall score.
The purpose of the Apparel Index is two-fold. The first is to inform shoppers of the environmental impact of their purchase before they buy. Because the system is still in development, the timeline to implement this is not yet in place. The second and more immediate purpose is to increase awareness among apparel companies and their designers of how their materials and procedures are impacting our environment. This increased awareness also provides them with the tools they need to make better choices and ultimately more viable products.
In her article “Sustainability in Textiles and Clothing: Why Should We Care?” Sabine Anton-Katzenbach discusses the importance of this type of ecological accounting. She stresses that companies need to take a holistic approach to implementing sustainability as they will inevitably be “forced to consider the complex, interconnected nature of the global economy as well as social and environmental aspects.” While rating systems such as the Apparel Index are an important milestone for the industry, Anton-Katzenbach also presents a valid point that “Isolated measures or the reduction of the issue to mere figures cannot be the answer to the sustainability question.”
Though there are no widely adopted rating systems to measure and evaluate sustainability expectations in clothing design and production, the Apparel Index is a step in a new direction for the fashion and garment industry. The participants in the Apparel Index’s beta phase will enable the system to find its stride, and lead the movement in the industry.