Reducing Impacts at Fabric Mills

Reducing Impacts at Fabric Mills Improving environmental practices and benefitting communities

Some of the most important environmental impacts related to making our clothes come from fabric mills, which use a great deal of water, chemicals and energy during the dyeing and finishing process. Mills demonstrate how environmental practices carry a direct link to people’s health and wellbeing. Wastewater must be treated before being returned to the surrounding environment to ensure that both ecosystems and nearby communities are protected.

Reducing impacts at mills

We launched our Mill Sustainability Program to establish clear environmental standards for fabric mills that protect people and communities. 

We launched our Mill Sustainability Program in 2013, and while it is focused on improving mills’ environmental practices, our ultimate goal is to ensure that these changes bring benefits to the people who live in communities where fabric is produced. Our program focuses on establishing clear environmental standards for fabric mills and integrating them into our sourcing decisions. It also aims to make broader improvements in the industry by identifying and sharing good practices for improving the use of water, chemicals and energy.

We started by working with 20 strategic mills in China, India, Pakistan and Taiwan to conduct environmental assessments, covering such issues as their energy use, water consumption, wastewater treatment and disposal, and handling of waste and hazardous substances. Using the Higg Index, a shared standard developed by members of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, we first asked mills to assess their own performance, then had the results verified by an independent third-party evaluator. In addition, we helped three mills in China participate in the NRDC’s Clean by Design program, and they achieved significant reductions in water and electricity use, as well as wastewater discharge.

Supporting Mills - At A Glance
Reducing impacts at mills

After analyzing environmental performance at the first 20 strategic mills, we have developed a roadmap that leads to clean water and responsible practices in textile mills and laundries. Some of our key actions to date have included:

We expanded our Mill Sustainability Program in 2015, starting with a pilot to provide training on resource efficiency to three mills in water-stressed regions of northern India We included 20 more strategic mills in our efforts to assess environmental performance, and are again participating in the Clean by Design program with a focus on mills in Suzhou, China.

In partnership with our sourcing teams, we are also developing a mill performance standard that establishes clear expectations on compliance and risk management, integrating sustainability information into sourcing decisions. We are increasing the scope of our technical training program to help more mills improve their practices.

The next step on our journey is to collaborate with our brands’ design and production teams to identify new opportunities for building on our Mill Sustainability Program. The more we understand the impacts of textile production and the choices we have in selecting fabrics, the more we can work toward creating a more sustainable apparel industry that is safe for people and communities.