This 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.
Words by Leighann Franson.