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The Though Kitchen - Dedicated to Stirring the Pot

Between the Threads: Jamie talks Eco Index

Posted by leighann | June 21st, 2011 | Filed under Design Eye, Positive Change, Sustainability, Who We Are

ecoindex_imageThis week in The Thought Kitchen, we sit down with Jamie, our Director of Textile Development and Sustainability, to get the inside scoop on her collaborative efforts on the Eco Index, a new tool that will take the BS out of “green” and set an industry-wide standard in sustainability. For Nau, it will give us—and many other companies—a deeper understanding of our environmental impact and how we can make it better. Sounds too good to be true, but it’s already happening.

There’s lots of buzz about the Eco Index, but I’m still not sure what it is or how it works.
Jamie Bainbridge: Basically, it’s a grassroots effort that was started about three-and-a-half years ago by the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) to help create a tool that would give companies a deeper understanding of the environmental impact of their products. About 100 member companies of OIA, Nau being one of them, came together in an industry-wide collaborative effort to build an open source, business-to-business tool that would evaluate a product’s overall environmental impact.

Wow. That sounds like a lot of work.
It is. But that’s not all. Last year, the world’s largest apparel companies—like Walmart and Target and others representing up to 50% of the apparel world—formed the Sustainable Apparel Coalition and approached OIA to join efforts in building a larger, more comprehensive tool that would be scalable for both small and large companies. So, ultimately, we had to find consensus from a long list of participants.

But, keep in mind, we are creating an industry-wide tool based on shared values of sustainability and conservation, the same values that have driven the outdoor industry since the beginning. And we are creating a common language across supply chains and manufacturing so that everyone is judged by the same standards.

It’s great in theory, but how does it work?
A product will be evaluated across its product lifecycles using the lenses of land use, water, waste, greenhouse gases and energy. Of course, this is a lot to think about, especially for companies just beginning the process, so we suggest starting with one aspect of your business, like packaging and integrating these small changes into your everyday business.

Makes sense, but what’s Nau got to do with this massive undertaking? And how is it going to affect the way things are run around here?
Well, I’ve been deep in the trenches of developing the content of the tool alongside my colleagues from REI, Patagonia, Timberland, Columbia, North Face and Mountain Equipment Co-op. And, essentially, it will allow us to have a deeper level of understanding of our products so that we’re always improving, progressing and evaluating the way thing are done. It’s going to allow us to make forward progress with our goals in sustainability, goals that we had no way to quantify before.

So we’re all going to be on the same playing field? Nau, Nike, REI and Walmart?
Yep, we will all be asking the same questions.

But this is a B2B tool, so what does it mean for the consumer?
For businesses, it will allow transparency in the way products are designed and built. For consumers, it’s a building block that allows them to trust our brand. And who knows, in time, it might just become a consumer-facing label.

And when is the debut of this ground-breaking tool?
Hopefully, we will pilot the tool in September using some of our own key products to evaluate the tool and give feedback before its official launch.

So this is really happening?
Oh yeah. You better believe it.

Next month, in part two of our three-part-series, we’ll take a deeper dive into the Eco Index and find out how a few of our key styles size up when put to the test.


8 Responses to “Between the Threads: Jamie talks Eco Index”

  • June 22, 2011 at 11:45 am | Janette Crawford says

    I’ve interviewed Jamie over the phone before and was wowed by her textile wisdom. Really excited about her and Nau’s role with the Eco Index, and glad to hear more about it here! Thanks!

  • July 5, 2011 at 1:49 pm | Rhia says

    Oh would I love to pick her brain about a hand-woven wall hanging/rug (wide and quite long) I have. I believe it could be valuable and possibly an antique. We need cash right now and it sure would help if we knew a ball-park value. I would welcome other help too of course. :-)

  • [...] month in The Thought Kitchen, we sat down with Jamie Bainbridge, our Director of Textile Development and Sustainability, to get [...]

  • August 2, 2011 at 9:42 am | ben shook says

    The idea of an “Eco Index” for clothing, in the context of sustainability and recycling, or whatever… seems structurally unsound to me. This has nothing to do with Jamie’s expertise in textiles (which I’m sure I would appreciate). First of all, as a B2B tool, as you say… well, I can’t imagine a savvy walmart shopper saying, “Yeah, we better steer away from these tube socks because they have a really low Eco Index…” or even an REI shopper for that matter. People care that the product works. When it fails they give it to Goodwill. The most ‘sustainable’ thing is the thing that lasts the longest. Asbestos and lead based paint are like 1,000 fold more sustainable than low VOC “eco-friendly” items, because they last forever and are normally inert once in place. They are just way more dangerous to remove. It seems to me that you think people really care about what is “sustainable…” (in my opinion a very regrettable term to associate with basically anything in our fossil fuel based marketplace) so you’re satisfying some kind of design criteria there. Being strict, the most sustainable thing to do is not purchase your clothing. NAU clothing looks really cool, however: it sells itself, it has a very discernible, passively recognizable brand. Why don’t you just stick to the truth there? Stick to what you know how to do. I’m not going to buy one jacket over another because I can recycle it… and I don’t think most people are. Anyway, is that what you want them talking about at dinner?

    ECO is from the Greek word, Oikos, house or home. Ecology is the way/thought/rule of the house.

    benjamin shook

  • August 2, 2011 at 2:01 pm | leighann says

    Ben-Thank you for your thoughts and comments. Nau is an innovative company committed to developing sustainable products. Beauty, performance and sustainability are the three key characteristics we think about with all products. Many of our customers do consider sustainability, and the overall
    environmental impact of a product before making their purchasing decision. One of our goals with the Eco-Index is to be on the forefront of innovation with existing and emerging information available in the
    marketplace. We want to inform ourselves to make better decisions throughout the product development process.

  • August 2, 2011 at 7:44 pm | Monica Paz Soldan says

    I tend to agree with Ben. And I don’t purchase clothing for that reason. However I understand that the average American is in no way prepared for that challenge. And with that I appreciate every effort on the part of industry. My first question is how “sustainable” is polyester in any state- recycled or otherwise. It is a petroleum product and it can only be recycled a few times before it is what it is- toxic waste. Moreover, I know how in love with polyester some of the outdoor enthusiast are, but is has been well know to be an immune system depressant for decades. As a mountaineer I have slept at over 13 thousand feet numerous times with only down and lovely wool. Also the article dose not address the fact that the only reason the cotton is “wasted” is because it is a natural fiber blended with a synthetic one. Unfortunately this may give some the impression that natural fibers are not recyclable. If the shirt had been all cotton or a blend of natural fibers it would have been 100% recyclable. Further all that industrial re-processing has an environmental impact. And no where in the system did I find an accounting for even the initial fabric production and dying. Presently the vast environmental impact of garment industry, processing, sizing and dying has one of the largest carbon foot prints of any industry. Speaking of carbon footprint- is that not a better standard to apply? There are companies that do give you the carbon footprint of each item. I think this is a much more reliable standard to apply. It gives the lie to “global” sourcing and brings things back home. If we had to manufacture all of our apparel here- would there be so much garment industry pollution in the rivers and streams of India, Thailand, China,Bangladesh, ect….? To survive we must all learn to do with much less- and that can be far more beautiful than we realize. It is a learning curve which I feel we are certainly up for. And if in the meantime you can help a few companies use less packaging- well good for you. However, I will be much more impressed with your getting behind and supporting carbon footprinting (which will reflect the real impact of choosing polyester and global sourcing) and seeing more of the lovely wool items you sell produced domestically with domestic wool. ECO, oikos- home. Our lives just might be sustainable if we provide for ourselves- at home. Thank you Ben for some sound thinking. I will keep growing indigo along with my food at home and know that someday others will too.

  • August 3, 2011 at 12:16 pm | leighann says

    Hey Monica- Thanks for your insightful comments. Most of our team, including Jamie, is in Utah this week, but check back tomorrow for a response. We want to make sure to get Jamie’s expertise on the questions you posed.

  • August 4, 2011 at 7:03 pm | leighann says

    : Monica-Thanks for your comments. To answer a few of your questions, we connected with Jamie, our Director of Textile Development and Sustainability and one of the contributors to the Eco Index. In some ways, recycled polyester is more sustainable than organic cotton:
    • Recycled polyester can be recycled up to six times and it doesn’t require any non-renewable resources to process it, while the cotton can not be recycled at all; it can only be downcycled due to its delicate fibers.
    • In fact, polyester is one of the few fibers that can be recycled.
    As for wool, even when it is sustainably grown, processed and managed, it still requires a larger footprint due to the amount of water, land and chemistry that it requires to process.
    When choosing fibers and designing our products, we try to take into account the entire footprint of the product—which includes waste, water, toxicity, and greenhouse gases—and not just the carbon footprint. Looking at the entire environmental footprint of a product, including the carbon footprint, is a complex process. That’s why we joined efforts with the Eco Index so that we could build a cooperative industry-based system that tackles the bigger picture, and not just segments of the system.

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