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New industry index will create common shade of green for outdoor apparel

New industry index will create common shade of green for outdoor apparel

Posting in Energy

Footprinting pioneer Timberland is teaming up with an industry association to inspire the broader practice of eco-labeling for hiking shoes, clothing.

As house-brand eco-labels go, the "Green Index" cooked up by outdoor apparel maker Timberland is pretty thorough. And established, since the company has actually been working on this thing since 2006. (Timberland publishes its methodology on its Web site so that people can learn about and adapt the framework for their own uses.)

Each Green Index is like a nutritional label that rates a product's Climate Impact, including the greenhouse gas emissions produced through manufacturing; the Chemicals Used, such as the presence of hazardous substances like polyvinyl chloride (PVC); and the Materials Used and whether are not they have been or can be recycled. Pretty straight-forward.

Here's an example of the label, which right now is found on approximately 14 percent of Timberland's footwear.

Apparently, that rating system will be used with ALL of the company's products (that's 100 percent) by the end of 2012, which means it has less than two years to make a pretty substantial investment not just in performing the ratings but in repackaging its products. But Timberland doesn't think it should walk alone in eco-label land, so it is working with the Outdoor Industry Association to create an industry-standard way of product footprinting. That industry standard will be called the Eco Index.

In a press release talking about the plan, Timberland's senior manager of environmental stewardship, Betsy Blaisdell, says:

"Individual efforts, like Timberland's Green Index, are good options for now, but to truly empower consumers, we know we needed a commitment from the entire industry. First mover companies only get so far -- collaboration is integral to achieving a consumer-friendly, industry-wide standard, which is why we applaud the launch of the OIA Eco Index as a positive step in the right direction."

The new index will be concerned with the following:

  • Materials
  • Packaging
  • Product Manufacturing and Assembly
  • Transportation and Distribution
  • Use and Service
  • End of Life

There really isn't any timing yet as far as when the new Eco Index will become a consumer-facing label (or even, actually, IF it will become a consumer-facing label). But at the very least, it will give companies in this industry a common framework for environmental assessment that is (in theory) independent of the product companies.

From a corporate standpoint, Timberland has four major goals related to its corporate social responsibility program. There are two that I want to highlight here.

First, as far as energy goes, the company is striving for carbon neutrality this year. By the end of 2010, about 39 percent of the power that the company uses will come from renewable energy sources; the goal five years from now is 60 percent. Second, Timberland is focusing on creating products that are recyclable. For example, at least two of its collections use what the company is calling Green Rubber, a material taken from old vehicle tires.

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Heather Clancy

Section Editor

Heather Clancy has written for United Press International, ZDNet, Entrepreneur, Fortune Small Business, the International Herald Tribune and the New York Times. She holds a degree from McGill University. She is based in New Jersey. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure