Behind the scenes at the Sustainable Apparel Coalition

So, for now, consumers will have to trust that progress is being made.

Michelle Harvey of Environmental Defense, a member of the coalition board, has been impressed by what she’s seen so far. “I’m pretty confident that it’s going to move the needle,” she told me. “It’s way too soon to say it’s going to change the face of the industry.”

A couple of final thoughts. Unlike other industry groups, the Sustainable Apparel Coalition doesn’t aim to establish a single standard of sustainability. Instead, it is setting aspirational goals that will take time for companies to meet. “We’re not trying to make an industry less bad,” Kibbey says. “We’re trying to create a platform for continuous improvement with some very lofty goals.”

What’s more, the groundwork laid here will likely lead to indices for other consumer products. Work is under way to develop a footwear index, and some bicycle makers would like to track the environmental impact of their products. “The hope is that it will organically — no pun intended — expand out into the world,” Whalen said.

Over time, the scores for companies should make their way into the hands of investors, employees and reporters, as well as consumers. “That has the potential of rewarding companies that are revealing clearly and transparently a superior sustainability commitment,” Ridgeway. Put another way: this could be the start of something big.

[Disclosure: I joined Jib Ellison and several of his BluSkye colleagues on a California rafting trip in June.]