Energy Star Ratings Arrive for Soft Goods

Jul 29, 2010

By Tom Ryan

A coalition of major apparel and footwear companies is working on
an environmental ranking system to help companies benchmark and measure their
environmental footprint. Mimicking the Energy Star series on appliances, the
Eco Index tool encompasses guidelines, performance indicators, footprint metrics
and a comparative scoring system against a six-stage lifecycle approach.

development since 2007 by the Eco Working Group, the Eco Index, actually a
software tool, poses a series of questions to companies on their environmental
and labor practices. Some require answers from factories and other suppliers.
It then assigns a score representing a percentage of a perfect score.

For now,
the major benefit is providing manufacturers with a common guideline to gauge
environment and human-rights impacts when designing their products. A pilot
program will roll out this fall.

“I think so many companies want to do the right thing environmentally
but not every company has the ability to understand what the right thing is,” said
Jill Dumain, director of environmental strategy at Patagonia and chair of the
Eco Working Group Advisory Council, in a statement.

But eventually and more controversially,
consumers are expected to see the ratings to measure how green the products
they’re buying are.

According to a Wall Street Journal article, a core problem
with publicly announcing Eco Index ratings is that their accuracy is tough
to verify. All information is self-reported by each company with no proof required.
The survey also includes a lot of estimates and grading systems vary depending
on each category. Participants also have yet to agree on whether the index
should be communicated as a single number on a hang tag, like Energy Star,
or in more detail that may involve pushing consumers to visit websites.

Jeff Swartz, CEO at Timberland, told the Journal that
he’s frustrated that the Eco Index coalition isn’t moving faster. Timberland
is already putting its own version of green ratings on its packages and website.

“Our industry is flirting with getting this right,” said Mr. Swartz.

vice president of social and environmental sustainability, Michael Kobori,
said the tool will be publicly available “as soon as we can get
everybody to agree” on how to communicate it.

“It’s got to be uniform in order to be useful,” added Rick Ridgeway,
vice president of environmental initiatives for Patagonia.

The coalition also
includes Nike, Brooks Sports, Adidas and Columbia Sportswear as well as retailers
such as REI and Target.

Discussion Questions: What do you think of the Eco Index rating system
for apparel and footwear? What lessons from the process of developing nutritional
food ratings guidelines can be applied to establishing green ratings around
consumer products?

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11 Comments on "Energy Star Ratings Arrive for Soft Goods"

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John Boccuzzi, Jr.
John Boccuzzi, Jr.
11 years 9 months ago

Although I believe this will happen over the next 5 years, I am not convinced it will mean much since the accuracy will be questionable. Manufacturers that produce products in the US for the US market should have a leg up on competitors that opt to manufacture overseas. One big issue will be how you measure environmental impact for manufacturers in places like China? Will someone go in and actually study the efficiency of a factory including natural resources, sustainable raw materials, waste, pollution, shipping costs and energy use?

Great idea, but unless the industry is willing to truly take this seriously, my guess is it will be just another advertising message with little meaning.

Susan Rider
Susan Rider
11 years 9 months ago

Some will adopt where it makes marketing sense but unless the industry on the whole adopts it, it will fizzle and die.

Unlike nutrition, this is a quality of life preference, much like recycling. Are there still people that don’t recycle? Absolutely, so some companies may use this as a marketing edge to the eco-conscious consumer.

David Livingston
11 years 9 months ago

Yawn. Most consumers want quality, fashionable clothing/footwear at competitive prices, period. There is a fringe element of consumers that would like this. But most Americans are oblivious to these things. We just buy what we want and and don’t look at the fine print on labels.

Gene Detroyer
11 years 9 months ago

Energy Star is managed by the DOE and EPA. Despite that, numerous “errors” are found in the ratings labeled on qualified products. And, can you imagine, all those “errors” are in the same direction.

If a government managed program has difficulty keeping manufacturers “error” free, how will the Eco Working Group?

If an environmental footprint becomes a major issue in the purchasing decision, manufactures will develop various measures that they can promote that will put their products in the best light. If the Eco Index doesn’t put them in the best light, they will invent an alternative. In the end, without a meaningful entity behind the index, it will have little worth.

Dr. Stephen Needel
11 years 9 months ago

I’m with David–I can’t decide whether to yawn or giggle or just be amazed at the extent we can devote so much time and effort to something so trivial that so few care about.

Green initiatives are great–this is silly.

Anne Bieler
Anne Bieler
11 years 9 months ago

The industry should be commended for their work, an important first step. As other panelists have written, unless there is a third party organization to certify, the results may not be meaningful, particularly with off-shore manufacturing. On the supplier side, there are NGO partners who have worked suppler industries to set up functional industry programs. The Sustainable Packaging Coalition, Forestry Sustainability Initiative, and Forestry Stewardship Council are a few of the NGO partners that help in certification and program development.

Craig Sundstrom
11 years 9 months ago

“…a core problem with publicly announcing Eco Index ratings is that their accuracy is tough to verify.”

Surprise!!! And this makes the effort rather useless, doesn’t it?

Eliott Olson
Eliott Olson
11 years 9 months ago

It is easier to measure a foot print when you are barefoot.

Gil Phipps
Gil Phipps
11 years 9 months ago

While I believe that consumers should care about this issue; I am cognizant that most do not. If this was a significant issue for most consumers, then American Apparel would be thriving, not struggling.

Odonna Mathews
Odonna Mathews
11 years 9 months ago

Any environmental rating system must be accurate and verifiable to be credible with consumers. Self reporting by companies is suspect.

The variety of nutritional rating systems that currently exist for consumers has developed over the last five or more years. And with new systems being introduced all the time, consumers can be confused. It takes time to learn each store system and to use it in everyday shopping.

Jerry Gelsomino
11 years 9 months ago

While many customers will not pay attention to the ratings and look only for price and quality, I think this is a great idea. Building industry standards and asking all to either be judged by or measured through these means, equals the playing field. These companies need to be encouraged to stick with it until everyone wants to play along.


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