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Sustainability as Strategy in the Clothing Industry

Sustainability as Strategy in the Clothing Industry

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Published by Misti Walker

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Published by: Misti Walker on Dec 11, 2009
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11/06/2012

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It is no surprise that more Americans are going green these days. You can hardlywatch television, read the news, or go shopping without a reminder that recycling is
 Towards aSustainableClothing Industry
 
the movement du jour. In response, companies are finding ways to green theirbusiness models. Increasingly, consumers expect and demand it of their favoritebrands. Any business can take steps to reduce its footprint to appease consumers(green washing), but successful firms will turn sustainability into competitiveadvantage. For these firms in the apparel industry, there are numerous opportunitiesto save the planet while saving cash and other resources.
Impact of the Industry
 The apparel industry in the United States is a $345B a year market. In 2007,Americans purchased 20.1 billion articles of clothing, 95% of which was madeelsewhere and imported(AAFA, 2007). The benefit of keeping clothing and othertextiles out of the waste stream is twofold: reduction in landfill space required as wellas a reduced need for resource-hungry materials such as cotton or polyester. Eachyear, every American discards an average of 68 pounds of textiles per year. Despitegrowth in the resale sector of 5% per year, research shows that 85% of discardedclothing ends up in the landfill(Claudio, 2007). To determine the true impact clothingmakes on the environment, one must take into account the entire life cycle of thegarment. To keep prices low, the cycle begins in the US with subsidized cotton and isthen shipped overseas to be assembled by workers who make an average of 15 centsper hour in countries ranging from China to Bangladesh. Once complete, thegarment is then shipped back to the states for sale, having traveled approximately14,625 miles before it hits the store shelves(NatGeo, 2008). The fashion industry issecond only to agriculture in water usage, not to mention the 25% of the world’spesticides that it uses. All of this before the item reaches the consumer and themajority of the impact made by clothing will occur after purchase(Earth Pledge,2009).
 
Industry Best Practices
Obviously, the clothing life cycle provides many areas for improvements insustainability. According to Porter, companies have been quick to greenwash theirprocesses but slow to identify and capitalize on areas of sustainability. Sustainabilitycan be thought of as “meeting the needs of the present without compromising theability of future generations to meet their own needs”(Porter & Kramer, 2006). Thefashion industry uses many harmful chemicals to produce its product. From thecotton field to the dying process, there are numerous advances being made towardssustainability in the clothing industry. Opportunities for improvement come frominputs, production, and delivery. To start, innovative companies are working to findmore sustainable raw materials such as organic cotton, hemp and bamboo which areless reliant on pesticides and water than traditional materials. The demand fororganic cotton grew 22% from 2004 to 2005, yet organic accounts for less than onepercent of worldwide cotton production(Claudio, 2007). Another approach tosustainability is associated with improvements in the value chain. Streamlining thepath that the product takes from cradle-to-gate may be gentler on the environment,yet the current way is more cost effective. Companies must decide if the addedexpense would further its strategy or add value to the product in the eyes of theconsumer. Porter’s view of corporate social responsibility (CSR) prescribes changesto the current practice, putting aside short-term goals to reach sustainability(Porter &

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