Are you ready to go on a carbon diet?
British retailer displays 'carbon footprint' label on everyday items. US retailers are hesitant to follow.
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Since 2005 the world's largest retailer has been attempting to embed sustainability into its corporate culture. It was the first major global retailer to announce large investments in renewable energy. Wal-Mart has given its buyers greater discretion to factor in environmental considerations while innovating with suppliers on carbon emissions. But it's only suggesting – not mandating – that suppliers measure and reduce their carbon footprint on product lines limited to DVDs, toothpaste, soap, milk, beer, vacuum cleaners, and soda.Skip to next paragraph
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As for carbon-labeling, Wal-Mart's senior vice president of sustainability, Matt Kistler, says that he doubted existing methodologies and the Wal-Mart customer's ability to relate carbon with consumer merchandise.
"I'm not sure the consumer will ever make a purchase based on the carbon footprint," he says, "especially the mass consumer."
At apparel companies like Gap Inc., sustainability largely focuses on packaging and store construction while the conversation with the public continues to be stymied by the fact that environmentally friendly garments cost far more than most consumers are willing to pay.
Petroleum-based pesticides and fertilizers make cotton one of the most toxic crops on the planet, says Mr. Minowa, "but to date there has been very little of this [consumer education] because many eco-friendly labeled clothes cost 50 to 100 percent more than their conventional counterparts."
In 2004, Gap Inc. launched a clean-water program to raise effluent discharge standards at its denim laundry facilities, but going back any further down the supply chain remains problematic. Gap's Better Cotton Initiative aims to provide a less costly and equally sustainable alternative to organic cotton, but so far the progress has been slow. Organic and alternative fibers remain less than 1 percent of their business, according to industry analysts.
Another option being pushed by clothing retailers centers on labels that try to convey the full impact of their manufacturing processes.
Patagonia, for example, has a new Web-based effort called the Footprint Chronicles. By showing both the "good" and "bad" on the company's interactive website, a consumer can track a Wool 2 Crew sweater as it originates in New Zealand, travels to Malaysia for combing, then to Japan, where it's spun into yarn and knitted, then to California and Nevada for sewing and production. In all, that's 16,200 miles traveled.
"This is not sustainable," the website states. The consumer also learns how the wool goes through an ozone wash, which is better for the environment than chlorine.