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Eco-Index Apparel Tool Gets an Upgrade, Moves to Pilot Phase

<p>The next phase of the aniticpated Eco Index Apparel Tool begins next month with pilot testing, laying the groundwork for apparel and designers to make more sustainable sourcing choices.</p>

In the outdoor industry's ongoing effort to bring its environmental footprint in line with its customers' love of nature, the Eco Index Apparel Tool is one of the brightest spots on the radar -- and it is getting a little brighter with a couple of big new updates.

The Eco Index tool, which was first announced last year, is getting an upgrade to incorporate a multi-million-dollar system developed by Nike to help them make more environmentally friendly design choices, as well as a streamlined structure to make it easier for companies to report their impacts.

Companies will get their first chance to test drive the latest version of the tool next month, and the Outdoor Industry Association and the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC) -- the two groups behind the Eco Index -- are calling on their member companies to pilot-test the Eco Index Apparel Tool.

"By using the Nike Material Assessment tool, they can assess two options in a data-driven way, in terms of environmental impact," explained Beth Jensen, OIA Corporate Responsibility Manager.

Nike spent $6 million over seven years to develop the tool, which allows designers to make better materials decisions during the earliest stages of product development, as we reported back in 2010. It assigns product designs a score based on various design characteristics, including the material's recycled content and amount of waste generated. Nike released the tool to the public in December.

The other structural change to the Eco Index involves breaking down the content into three area indicators, or modules: Product, Brand and Facilities.

The majority of the tool's questions, such as those related to packaging or materials, will be part of the Product indicators. Brand level indicators would cover the questions that a brand would answer in the same way for every product, such as its use of a restricted substance list, while the Facilities indicators would cover questions related to a specific facility. Answers given for both the Facility and Brand indicators would be stored so companies would only need to answer them once, rather than for each time they used the tool.

The Eco Index Apparel Tool Pilot Program will run through January. It is limited to OIA and SAC members. The first pilot testing of the original content, which took place in Fall 2010, attracted about 100 partipants, and Jensen expects a similar number to pitch in this time around. Participants will test at least two products, and companies outside apparel manufacturing are asked to join the pilot program because the process will inform additional tools in the future.

"This is a great opportunity for all SAC and OIA companies to proivide feedback and help shape the tool going forward," Jensen said. "The pilot program is open only to members, soley for management purposes."

The tool will eventually be free and open source. Following the testing period, the OIA and SAC will revise the index based on feedback from the pilot. Social and labor indicators now under development will be integrated into the index, while two separate working groups will also work toward footwear- and equipment-specific indexes.  

"Both the footwear and equipment subgroups will look to the apparel tool for structure and modify as needed," Jensen said. "Apparel will serve as the template for future product category tools."

Image CC licensed by Flickr user Mini D.

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