Benchmarking Sustainability in Apparel

Anyone that’s been around the Baldrige Criteria very long has heard a phrase similar to; “There really isn’t good comparative data available for us.” or, “We benchmark ourselves.” or, “That metric doesn’t lend to comparison.” But we all know that the organizations that truly believe in continuous improvement find a way to compare their metrics to someone else’s to make sure they are either near the top, on top, or at least moving in the right direction as far as performance goes. Let’s face it. A batting average of 50 is world class if you don’t compare it to anyone else.

There is a good article in Today’s WSJ (How Green Is My Sneaker) that gives an example of some of the creative ways that companies can create meaningful benchmarks when there seem to be none. The Eco Index is a score that indicates the environmental and human rights impacts for a piece of apparel. The score is generated from a series of questions concerning the raw materials used, where materials are sourced, manufacturing, and shipping among other parameters.

The most interesting part of this topic from a Baldrige perspective is that the Eco Index is managed by an industry group (Outdoor Industry Association) that was originally started by some of the companies that are industry leaders in terms of sustainable manufacturing. Patagonia, The North Face, REI, and Brookwood Companies can now use the Eco Index to determine their standing against peers in the industry. The bonus for the industry leaders is that there is some built-in marketing value in gaining acceptance for the index and getting it in front of consumers. The people that will most pay attention to a label with an Eco Index listed are the niche customers most likely to buy stuff from companies like Patagonia.

Create a benchmark and close the feedback circle by meeting your best customer’s desires and needs.

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