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Case Study: Gap Inc. Exceeding Energy-Efficiency Goals with Supplier Participation

Published: 12 November 2022
5 min read
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Aii Programs

Exceeding Energy-Efficiency Goals with Supplier Participation 

In 2017, Gap Inc. pledged to save 10 billion liters of water by 2020. Taking its 2014 usage as a baseline, the retailer became involved with the Clean by Design program as a way to meet this considerable goal. Because Clean by Design consists of 10 best practices, it is proven and yields measurable impact results and return on investment to the mills, while being easy to understand, adopt and execute. Gap Inc. recognized that Clean by Design would be low-hanging fruit for its suppliers to save water, so the company started proactively nominating its strategic facilities to participate.

Fast forward to Earth Day 2020 – Gap announced that it had exceeded its goal by saving 11.2 billion liters of water since 2014 – 10.2 billion with resource energy-efficiency programs and 1 billion through processing and product innovation. Without question, the Clean by Design program played a significant role in Gap’s outstanding figures.

How Gap Did It

Gap had been working with Clean by Design, which was first administered by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), since 2013 and had nominated facilities for each Clean by Design cohort. During the years of implementing Clean by Design, Gap intensified its involvement in sustainability, later serving as one of the founding members of Aii. In the early years, a unified approach to sustainability programming was missing from the industry. Aii’s management of the Clean by Design program changed that by promoting partnership, collaboration and transparency.

Between 2013 and 2021, Gap has nominated 52 facilities to participate in programs, including Clean by Design, Clean by Design Plus, Chemistry & Wastewater Management (in India) and Carbon Leadership. These facilities, which are responsible for Tier 1 (finished product assembly) and Tier 2 (material production) of the supply chain, have been located in Mainland China, Vietnam, India, Pakistan and Taiwan Region.

Thanks to these broad-reaching efforts, Gap has reported significant reduction in carbon, energy and water. Even better, the results provided the company with multiple synergistic benefits. While Gap had entered the Clean by Design program as a way to save water, the company soon realized that it was also saving energy, making it well positioned when setting science-based targets for Scope 3 GHG reduction

“Gap understands that efficiency programs are a win-win, good for the brand and good for our suppliers because saving energy and water results in cost-savings,” said Agata Smeets, Director of Global Sustainability at Gap. 

Development for Aii

Implementing the Clean by Design program didn’t just benefit Gap’s efficiency efforts and suppliers’ bottom lines. The company’s work has supported the industry’s expansion of standardized impact programs globally.

In fact, Gap has taken a leadership role, along with Aii, in piloting the initiatives for program expansion to India, Vietnam and Taiwan Region.  Gap also championed and drove the development of Aii’s Clean by Design+ program, which supports wet processing facilities ready for more advanced-level programming.

“The Clean by Design partnership is flexible and focused on always improving and expanding,” said Aaron Tam, Senior Manager of Gap’s Environmental Capability Building team. “We understood that some facilities were ready for more and just needed support, so we were excited to be able to offer that. Likewise, we knew that meeting our ambitions SBTs would take more than just going after that low-hanging fruit.”

The Future

Gap’s priorities remain focused on water, climate and waste, and Aii’s programs are vital for meeting the brand’s climate goals. The company has been working along with Aii on strategies to meet its Scope 3 SBTs (30% of GHG emissions from 2017 baseline by 2030).

“We are driving all of our efficiency work through Aii and are super excited that Aii is now also expanding their programs to include additional impact initiatives to aggregate renewable energy procurement and  coal phase-out projects – key levers in our climate strategy,” said Smeets. “Our advice would be to just start. When we started, we were flying by the seat of our pants, and Clean by Design was a credible program that helped us structure our supply chain strategies.”

Today, launching and joining collective impact programs in different geographies is a lot easier than it once was. When Gap first started doing this environmental work, the company had to develop and run its own programs because none were available in certain geographies.

“With Aii, we were able to fold these programs into one another,” said Smeets. “We created an aligned approach, invited other brands to participate and introduced Aii to additional service providers like environmental consultants who could help put Aii’s objectives into action on the ground.”  

Thanks to convenors like Aii, standardized metrics and aligned methodologies are more available and transparent, making results more predictable and replicable. Collective action  is now recognized as the way to reach climate goals.

“It’s important to not underestimate communication channels with your suppliers that you’re nominating for these programs,” said Tam. “A supplier’s mindset is key to achieving success and results, and provides great programs through which to approach suppliers to urge them to undertake this work.”

Gap’s purpose is to be “inclusive by design.” What consumers may not realize is, it’s also to be “clean by design.”