Raw Materials Selecting sustainable fibers
We believe great products are created with sustainability at their core — which means using more sustainable raw materials to make our clothes. We give our brands license to improve the sustainability of their products by selecting the best raw materials that meet the performance of their products, while also meeting our standards for social and environmental sustainability. We are constantly refining and innovating our strategy to source and use more sustainable raw materials.
We use many types of fibers in Gap Inc. products: natural fibers, including plant-based items such as cotton and linen, and animal-based materials such as wool, leather and cashmere; synthetic fibers, including polyester and spandex; and man-made cellulosics, including pulp-based materials such as rayon and modal. Each type of fiber has a social and environmental impact, and we are empowering our designers with the knowledge needed to make informed choices within the design process.
Today, we focus our raw materials strategy on the top fibers that account for approximately 95 percent of our fiber consumption: cotton, polyester, nylon and man-made cellulosics. Historically, fiber traceability has been a challenge, as fabric sourcing is done separately from supplier selection, so we have improved our internal reporting systems to provide detailed data on our fiber consumption and volumes and to meet our goals.
Each type of fiber we use has a social and environmental impact, and we empower our designers to make informed choices within the design process.
In 2017, we increased our sourcing of Better Cotton tenfold across all of our brands.
Cotton is essential to our business. As one of the world’s leading apparel brands, we use a significant amount of the global cotton supply. Cotton cultivation requires large amounts of land, human labor, machinery, pest- and weed control measures, and it is also water-intensive. Cotton is also an important crop for the economy, supporting the livelihoods of 250 million people, many of whom are women.
Given its importance in many of our products, we have announced ambitious goals to source more sustainable cotton. Our Gap brand aims to use 100 percent more sustainable cotton by 2021. To us, sustainable cotton includes recycled, organic, American-grown and cotton from the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI). We joined BCI in 2016 to build resiliency by integrating more sustainable materials into our product design and sourcing practices.
These options enable us to purchase cotton that is grown in ways that reduce water and pesticide usage, improve soil quality and work to make cotton production better for the workers and farmers involved. For example, BCI provides training to millions of farmers around the world to “produce cotton in a way that cares for the environment, minimizing the negative effects of fertilizers and pesticides, and caring for water, soil health and natural habitats.” BCI farmers also commit to decent work principles — conditions that support workers’ safety and well-being. This approach works: In a benchmark of BCI farmers in 2013, between 14 percent and 23 percent less water was used in cultivation than on farms that did not use BCI principles.
As we continue to evolve our sourcing practices, we are also deepening our understanding of the regions from which we source, with a focus on risks in water-sensitive areas and other impacts arising from climate change. Because cotton is mostly grown in areas of high water stress, such as India, China and Pakistan, we have built a comprehensive evaluation of cotton-sourcing risks.
We also use synthetic materials in our products, including polyester, spandex and nylon, which provide essential performance properties. However, synthetics are often derived from nonrenewable, petroleum-based sources. They also have fewer end-of-life solutions than natural fibers because they may never biodegrade.
To address these challenges, we’re taking steps to ensure we’re sourcing more sustainable synthetic fibers. In 2017, we began exploring more sustainable polyester options, including recycled polyester. After working with external groups, including the Textile Exchange Recycled Polyester Group and the Biosynthetics Group, we have been gathering data for a life-cycle assessment, and we have formed an internal working group to define the challenges and opportunities in recycled polyester and supplier mapping.
As a brand that uses large amounts of synthetics in its active wear, Athleta is taking a leading stance on addressing this issue with its goal of having 80 percent of materials made with sustainable fibers by 2020. Athleta incorporates recycled polyester and nylon into sourcing, which helps offset the impacts and waste streams of virgin materials and preserves our nonrenewable resources.
Athleta has a goal of having 80 percent of materials made with sustainable fibers by 2020.
In 2017, we created a new companywide policy to eliminate our use of wood-derived fabrics from ancient and endangered forests by 2020. This commitment helps protect critical forests and supports our other efforts to tackle climate change, as forest ecosystems are vital natural resources that promote biodiversity, protect watersheds and help mitigate climate change by preventing carbon dioxide from increasing in the atmosphere.
Our policy is intended to ensure that our suppliers do not use ancient and endangered, high-conservation-value and high-carbon-value forest areas to make cellulose-based textiles, including rayon, viscose, lyocell and modal. We developed our policy in partnership with Canopy’s sustainable fashion and forestry initiative, CanopyStyle.
To achieve our commitment, our Global Sustainability and Global Supply Chain teams are partnering with our mills to identify our raw-materials suppliers in order to eliminate sourcing of wood-derived fibers from ancient and endangered forests. We are working with those suppliers to go through CanopyStyle’s audit and remediation plan, and to develop trials using innovative fabrics. In partnership with our major suppliers, we are also exploring ways to integrate recycled cellulosics into our raw materials pool.
In addition, in 2018 we joined with other companies in urging the Canadian Government to protect boreal forest ecosystems through developing and implementing plans to legally protect critical habitat from degradation.