The Most (& Least) Eco-Friendly Fashion Brands Might Surprise You

Photo: John Keeble/Getty Images.
Sometimes a retailer decides to get very transparent about its commitment to reducing waste and building an eco-friendly business, by, say, publishing its sustainability practices on its website (a few examples here and here); by signing a pledge with a third party (like Canopy or Greenpeace) to develop a sustainability plan within a specific time frame; or doing both. But outside of those initial public declarations, these brands may not provide status updates, giving insight into the specific changes they make to their infrastructure to actually effect change for a greener future. Meanwhile, we read staggering reports about the pollution (and often unsafe working conditions) our shopping habits can create. Greenpeace is holding the big-name companies accountable by evaluating just how much — or how little — progress they've made toward their goals, Mic reports.

In July 2011, Greenpeace launched a campaign called Detox My Fashion, which specifically looks at the hazardous chemicals created by the garment industry that pollute the global water supply. Greenpeace called upon clothing companies to reexamine the manufacturing practices of their suppliers in order to rid the process of these toxic substances. Initially focused specifically on sportswear brands, the campaign went on to recruit 76 international retailers to adopt its five-step Detox Program and be chemical-free by 2020. Since 2013, Greenpeace has been checking in on each participant's progress annually, compiling reports it dubbed Detox Catwalk that call out which companies are "walking the toxic-free talk" — and which are falling behind.

This year's check-in focused on how these retailers are faring in order to meet the 2020 deadline: The three leading companies, per Greenpeace's standards, were Inditex (parent company to Zara), H&M Group, and Benetton. Each participant was evaluated on how it developed and committed to its Manufacturing Restricted Substances List (MRSL), how it's doing in terms of eliminating per- and polyfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) from its manufacturing chain, and how honest it's being about its efforts. In order to land in the top tier (or reach "avant-garde" status, as Greenpeace puts it), brands had to be in a good place with two or all three of the Detox Program's tenets.

Others didn't do quite as well: Limited Brands (which owns Victoria's Secret and Henri Bendel) and Nike were called out for some faux pas in complying with the Detox Program. According to Greenpeace, while L Brands is doing well in terms of transparency, the company couldn't prove that it had rid its manufacturing process of PFCs. Meanwhile, Nike was the only brand out of 19 companies surveyed that received a failing grade on all three counts. Esprit and Li-Ning also landed in this bottom category.

Kirsten Brodde, the project lead on Detox My Catwalk, explained in a blog post that this program "is just the tip of the iceberg" in terms of what needs to be done in order to make fashion sustainable. "Mass production of cheap clothes will never be sustainable," she writes, adding that the next point of improvement lies in post-growth business models. You can see how the remaining 12 participating retailers —including Adidas, Mango, and Levi's — are doing by checking out the full report, here.
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