The North Face pushes 100% recycled polyester clothing goal by 2016

Outdoor clothing retailer The North Face has set a goal to use 100% recycled polyester fabric by 2016 - material that will be mainly sourced from post-consumer water bottles.

The company is targeting polyester as it makes up 80% of the material it uses in its clothing products. It currently has a jacket within its range already produced from 100% recycled content, and is looking to roll this innovation out across its other lines.

This move forms part of a wider drive to tackle end-of-life product waste in the clothing industry as a whole. Last year The North Face launched ‘Clothes the Loop’ – a free in-store recycling takeback initiative for unwanted garments and footwear.

The items dropped off in these collection bins are sent to a recycling centre where they are separated and sorted into over 400 categories before being repurposed for reuse to extend their life. If they are not fit for reuse, they are recycled into raw materials for use in products like insulation, carpet padding and stuffing for toys.

Waste from landfill

The scheme is now running in 27 stores following a successful 14-week pilot. According to the company, the initiative is very much aligned with the lifetime warranties it offers on its products.

“We receive more than 160,000 product units each year at our warranty department and almost half are repairable and returned to consumers. The remainder is donated or downcycled depending on the condition,” a company statement read.

In terms of its own operations, The North Face is now diverting 86% of its waste from landfill at its Alameda headquarters in California. Of this, 48% of materials were recycled while 38% were composted. This has been helped by an on-site recycling centre for hard-to-recycle items and the use of reusable/compostable dishes and utensils in its café.

The company is also tracking greenhouse gas emissions against its five-year (2013) goal of a 25% reduction in sales-normalised emissions. As of July 2014, it achieved a 21% reduction. The biggest challenge here is its retail facilities, which account for 67% of total measured emissions, as they are often leased stores.

“Without full control over the infrastructure of many of our retail stores, we are limited in the changes we can implement. To make up this deficit we are continuing to pursue opportunities at our owned facilities and through retail retrofits,” The North Face said.

Animal welfare

Meanwhile within its supply chain, there have been significant reductions in water and energy use over a three-year period, from 2010-13. These amounted to 155,000,000 gallons in water savings and 34,500,000 KWhs of energy savings.

The North Face is also looking to improve animal welfare and traceability in the supply chain. It has created a Responsible Down Standard (RDS) to help ensure that its goose down and feather does not come from animals that have been subject to any unnecessary harm, such as force-feeding or live-plucking, and to provide a traceability system to validate the original source of down used in its products.

Certified down will be incorporated into The North Face products in Autumn 2015 with a goal of 100% certification by Autumn 2017. The company had previously been reliant on self-declarations from suppliers but it became clear that this was not sufficient.

According to the North Face’s director of sustainability Adam Mott, the down supply chain is very complex and the animals and raw materials typically change hands many times, making validation difficult.

In drawing up the standard, the company sought input from experts in animal welfare, standard development and materials traceability and evaluated everything from hatcheries to family farms to processing facilities. It has now gifted ownership of the standard to an independent third party, the Textile Exchange, which will allow any organisation seeking to source down more responsibly to use this tool.

“Our hope is that the collective use of the [standard] will effectively promote positive animal welfare conditions and traceability in the down supply chain at a much larger scale than we could accomplish alone,” said Mott.

Maxine Perella

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