Gap Touts Clean Water Efforts on New Product Label

Gap Touts Clean Water Efforts on New Product Label

In 2004, Gap Inc. introduced a program to ensure that the water used to wash its jeans before sale is treated to avoid polluting rivers and streams with chemicals and dyes.

The guidelines have evolved into a new denim laundry policy that became part of its vendor code of conduct in December. All laundries in its supply chain, now totaling about 90, must meet these standards or demonstrate their intent to do so.

For the first time, Gap is now publicly communicating this policy to its customers through an interior label attached to its latest product. When customers turn a pair of Gap's just released 1969 Premium Jeans inside out, they’ll find a label emblazoned with the message: “The water used in the process of washing & dyeing these jeans has been specially treated to ensure it is safe & clean when it leaves the factory.”

The move is a response to growing consumer demand for information about where and how clothing is made, according to Melissa Swanson, Gap’s director of environmental affairs and brand engagement. 

“We felt it was important that customers know that this is one step we’ve taken to make sure our jeans are made in a responsible manner,” Swanson told GreenBiz.com.

The wastewater issue is a complex problem that is not easily communicated in a product label, Swanson said, adding that the company has for years highlighted its efforts in its annual corporate social responsibility reports in order to tell stakeholders the “backstory.”

She hopes the label will spark the curiosity of its customers, leading them to further investigate its environmental track record. Every pair of jeans sold in Gap, Old Navy or Banana Republic stores goes through the program.

The company developed the guidelines as part of its membership in the BSR Sustainable Water Group, a coalition of companies working to promote responsible management of textile water use and wastewater discharge. The guidelines used by Sustainable Water Group members include rules prohibiting visible discharge or sending sewage into open bodies of water.

“Gap is the first member of BSR’s Sustainable Water Group to communicate their implementation of a clean water program through the use of a label,” Linda Hwang, BSR’s manager of environmental research and innovation, told GreenBiz.com in an email message. “However, Coldwater Creek, Levi Strauss & Co., Nike, Inc. all communicate their membership within the SWG through either their websites or corporate social responsibility reports.” {related_content} At the end of 2008, 71 Gap laundries complied with the program. The company is working with the 19 failing laundries by creating corrective action plans.

Implementing its 2004 Clean Water program, similar to introducing any new supply chain guideline, required a lot of training, communication, and supplier capital investment, Swanson said. “That’s why it took significant time to incorporate the program.”

Water, often characterized as the "new carbon," is gaining an increasing amount of attention from both the business community and general public. A recent survey found 93 percent of the world's citizens believe water pollution is a serious problem, while 91 percent expressed concern about a shortage to fresh water.

Meanwhile, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development and International Union for Conservation of Nature published a report last week documenting more than a dozen initiatives and tools being used by business and civil society leaders to manage water more responsibly.