Product Sustainability Great product designed with sustainability in mind
We are committed to integrating environmental sustainability more deeply into every aspect of our business, from the materials we source, to the suppliers we work with and, ultimately, the clothes we sell.
We are committed to pursuing technology and product innovation, allowing us to continually deliver great products that look good, delight our customers wear after wear and reduce our impact on people and the planet. In recent years, we’ve begun a new journey to build on our capabilities and empower our employees to make sustainability part of their jobs. Our brands are tasked with developing strategies to improve their sustainability performance, and in 2017, both our Athleta and Gap brands released public goals to improve the materials they source.
We educate our brand teams about how to design using more sustainable fibers, fabrics and manufacturing techniques that save water—and how to procure more responsible materials.
We are embarking on a long-term vision that builds on our strengths, addresses our weaknesses, and ensures that our product efforts are sustainable and scalable. We also recognize that we cannot get there alone and we will continue to leverage our relationships with peers, partners and stakeholder groups, such as the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, Textile Exchange and the Better Cotton Initiative. Our partners each bring something unique to the table in terms of access, expertise, common framework or principles, funding and more. With these partnerships, we’re able to scale up work through our global supply chain and support our brands in setting their own sustainability goals.
Addressing Water Use with Design Choices
Since up to 80% of a product’s environmental impact is tied to decisions made in design and development, we know that reducing water impacts begins with innovative product design. Our designers have embraced the opportunity to save water while creating the style and quality our customers love. We are working with our designers to evaluate a variety of factors that can reduce water impacts throughout a product's life cycle. These factors include: the type of raw materials and how much are used, how our products are manufactured and how long our clothes are designed to last.
In addition to improving the raw materials used in our products, we are working to reduce water used to finish garments such as denim, while staying true to the look and feel of the clothes that our customers love. For instance, Gap has pioneered a smart denim wash technique called Washwell that incorporates water-savings as well as plant-based fabric softeners that are certified by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as BioPreferred.® Not only did Washwell save more than 17.9 million liters of water in 2016, this process has helped to eliminate hazardous chemicals and protect the health of workers and waterways.
Our designers have embraced the opportunity to save water while creating the style and quality our customers love.
Integrating Sustainability into Our Brand Decisions
One of the most effective ways we’ve found to design and create more sustainable products is to build awareness and education around sustainability, so as to improve the impacts of our products on people and the planet. We continue to educate our brand designers, merchants, product development and sourcing teams about how to design using more sustainable fibers, fabrics and manufacturing techniques that save water—and how to procure more responsible materials.
In partnership with sourcing product development teams, we’ve designed training on raw materials and wet-processing impacts and alternatives. We trained product development teams from Athleta and Gap and our sourcing teams to make informed design decisions when creating more sustainable products. We are also engaging new employees as they enter the company and start their careers. A product sustainability curriculum is included in our Rotational Management Program training, and we updated our new employee orientation to include key highlights and resources. We also publish a monthly Product Sustainability Report. This internal newsletter provides updates on current events, industry innovations, as well as company and competitor initiatives. Informing our teams provides insight into the business value, and empowers them to integrate this information into their day-to-day work.
We are integrating sustainability more deeply into the way we do business.
Our brands are also taking a leading role by establishing their own sustainability goals.
From its start, Athleta has been grounded in the values of taking care of ourselves and our environment. In 2015, the brand strengthened this commitment by integrating sustainability more deeply into the way it does business. Athleta took its efforts to the next level by building a passionate, knowledgeable, cross-functional team and making training courses and tools available to them. This included the development of ambitious sustainability targets and customer messaging.
Athleta has prioritized the conversion of raw materials to sustainable alternatives and has set a goal to use sustainable fibers, including recycled polyester and Lenzing Tencel, in 80% of materials by 2020. Athleta is also offering certified Fair Trade products that provide additional worker funds to the factory certified in Sri Lanka. These funds are used to address work needs such as health care, childcare, transportation and community investment, based on nominations by a worker committee.
Gap brand has established the ambitious goal to get 100% of its cotton from more sustainable sources by 2021, including BCI, organic, recycled and American-grown. Gap sourced 3.8 million pounds of BCI cotton in its Spring 2017 collection alone. The brand is launching the Gap for Good platform, which serves to engage customers through product tagging, in-store and online tagging and marketing material. We are also working to educate our store employees on our sustainability efforts so they are empowered to talk about this work with our customers.
We’ve also begun to examine our packaging, understanding that we need to work holistically to ensure our products, and the items we use to protect and ship them, have a smaller impact on the environment.
Looking forward, there are still many areas where we see impacts that must be addressed, including sustainable chemistry and end-of-life solutions. We see opportunity for industry-wide collaboration to find innovative solutions to many outstanding issues. While we have much exciting work ahead of us in 2017 and beyond, we are pleased that our brands are championing sustainability by setting ambitious goals, integrating sustainability into their processes, designing with sustainability in mind and communicating directly to customers.