Protecting Our Shared Environment
Protecting Our Shared Environment A priority for people and our business
We view environmental issues as fundamental human rights issues. People can’t live without clean air to breathe and clean water to drink. And those who already face challenges due to poverty or lack of opportunity tend to suffer the most from environmental harms, as their communities are often the most vulnerable and have the fewest resources.
A healthy environment is also critical to our own survival as a company. We depend on natural resources like water to make our products, and we also rely on the people who make our clothes: If they cannot thrive in the communities where they live, neither can we. The environment is shared by all of us, and it is imperative that we act together to protect it.
We view environmental issues as fundamental human rights issues and are exploring new ways to address our impacts on climate change, water and waste.
This urgency is heightened by current environmental threats, including those caused by our industry. We are keenly aware that the environmental impacts of the apparel industry are significant, including water impacts, waste, pollution and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
Our current environmental approach centers on climate change, waste and water . These are the issues where we see significant potential to positively impact people’s lives—and they also hold a great importance to our business.
In addition to needing access to natural resources to remain viable in the future, we need to help ensure that the people who make our clothes have access to clean water to sustain their health and well-being. We focus on these issues individually, and we also consider the connections across environmental challenges. For instance, climate change and water issues are closely linked, as scientists have documented that climate change affects water supplies in a number of ways. It has reduced the world’s freshwater, for example, and the warming of the planet’s atmosphere is leading to unpredictable shifts in annual runoff and precipitation, as well as melting glaciers, more intense storms and impacts to agricultural crops and other vegetation.
To achieve our ambitious environmental goals, we are making improvements in our policies, practices, processes and decision-making. We are also forming partnerships—with our brands, mills and laundries, industry initiatives, civil society organizations and governments—to make a larger impact.
We believe that the health of our environment depends on bolder action across all segments of society, from governments to companies to environmental organizations to consumers. If we can achieve our goals, we’ll make a much more meaningful difference. And if other companies set bigger reduction targets as well, the collective impact could be very tangible. The need for people everywhere to work together to create a healthy environment is not up for debate, nor is it optional—for any of us. We feel an urgency to act to protect the resources that we all share and depend on to create a better future.
We take a holistic approach to addressing environmental issues, with a focus on:
Creating solutions for Women + Water: Our water strategy is focused on the intersection between our industry’s significant use of water and the basic right people have to clean, safe water. Our supply chain connects us to many of these women and their communities, giving us an opportunity to help improve their access to water and help them manage water issues. We support women and communities through our P.A.C.E. program, which includes a water-focused curriculum, and through partnerships address systemic challenges such as access to clean, safe water.
Improving manufacturing at mills and laundries: The processes behind making a piece of clothing affect both the environment and people in the surrounding communities. Traditional fabric mills use a great deal of water and chemicals, and wastewater must be treated to protect ecosystems and nearby communities. Laundries also require a great deal of water and pose pollution risks. We are working with fabric mills and laundries to improve practices, and we are pursuing partnerships across our supply chain to reduce water and chemicals use.
Together with our suppliers, we aim to reduce water use in manufacturing by 1 billion liters by the end of 2017.
We commit to divert 80% of waste from our landfill for our U.S. operations by the end of 2020.
Doing our part on climate: A healthy climate is critical to healthy populations and our success as a business. We have the greatest power to reduce our impact within our own operations, so we have created programs focused on our retail stores, offices and distribution networks. We are also part of industry and government initiatives and advocate for progressive policy action on climate and energy issues. Because we know that our supply chain represents an even larger carbon footprint, we also work closely with our suppliers to improve their climate and environmental performance, as described below.
Diverting waste: Our biggest waste streams from our owned-and-operated facilities are polyethylene bags and plastic hangers. As many of our facilities are within larger mall complexes, we are looking for solutions that address the diverse needs of our stores and distribution centers. We also engage with our brands, suppliers and the greater apparel industry to achieve our waste-reduction goal.
Enhancing the sustainability of our products: Our integrated commitment to sustainability begins with our design teams and the development of products that look good, have lower impact on the environment and bring confidence to our customers. Since the materials in our clothes greatly contribute to each garment’s environmental impact, our design and production decisions have significant power to make our products more sustainable. Our brands are tasked with developing strategies to improve their sustainability performance. To scale up our work, we also leverage partnerships with organizations such as the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, Textile Exchange and the Better Cotton Initiative.
Addressing supply chain impacts: We have focused most of our efforts to mitigate our environmental footprint on the parts of our business over which we have the most direct control. But we know that ultimately we can create greater impact by moving further into our supply chain, where a significant portion of the emissions related to our business originate. We are developing a strategy to address these emissions, with a critical first step being to work with our global strategic suppliers to assess and manage their environment impacts. We are also collaborating with the broader apparel industry to come up with wide-scale solutions.
Our brands are also integrating sustainability into their goals. Our Gap brand aims to use 100% sustainable cotton by 2021, and Athleta aims to use sustainable fibers in 80% of its materials by 2020.