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Integrating Clean by Design with the Apparel Impact Institute

Published: 26 August 2019
4 min read
Aii Programs
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When the Apparel Impact Institute was founded, we knew that a core function of our organization would be to identify best-in-class quality programming to support our overarching efforts and mission to dramatically and measurably improve the sustainability outcomes of the apparel and footwear industries. In our capacity to identify, fund, scale and measure impact programs, Aii would build a team of both internal experts and external advisors.

For our first initiative, Aii took on the identification of the leading mill improvement programs with a proven record in bringing optimization strategies and best practices to the apparel industry’s wet processing facilities. Some of these programs were beginning to build upon resource efficiency and building out deeper engagements for chemistry and clean energy best practices and other improvements across tiers of the supply chain. This would be a direction Aii would want to invest in scaling impact projects and programs.

At the same time, one of the proven programs, Clean by Design (CbD), created by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), had been tested across 125 mills in China. NRDC was ready to open source this program and its methodology to the apparel industry and Aii was the perfect place to house this next phase of the program’s development.

In partnership with our Mill Improvement Alliance (with representation from IDH, SIWI and Solidaridad), we have identified a core set of principles, criteria and metrics, informed by the CbD methodology, to use as the baseline of Aii’s determination for quality mill programs. This foundation will be built upon by the Aii community of practice as we go deeper and further across facility improvements and optimizations to reach the industry’s collective environmental impact goals.

We selected CbD to serve as the foundation for our inaugural initiative, Mill/impact. This methodology will be shared amongst all mill programs and partners that Aii funds to scale across the global supply chain. We are not exclusively scaling CbD, as much as we are scaling consistent programming across many existing and future partners.

Consequently, in an effort to leverage greater efficiencies of human talent and other resources, we have integrated the full CbD team within Aii, expanding our reach and expertise in environmental improvement. These team members, led by Kurt Kipka, now make up the program team at the Aii. The first initiative this team will support the industry to scale is Mill/impact.

Mill/impact leverages the longstanding success of the CbD methodology, along with best practices and expertise from our Mill Improvement Alliance, to provide a comprehensive system that improves energy, water and chemical use in textile mills, thus increasing efficiencies and reducing the harmful effects of one of the most environmentally impactful segments of apparel production. Since 2007, the CbD approach has been introduced to more than 200 mills of all ages and sizes, lending the ability to be scaled at any level.

From 2014-17, 56 actively participating CbD mills experienced the following savings:

  • 7 million tons of water annually (a decrease of 11% usage per mill)
  • 90,000 tons of coal annually (a decrease of 7% per mill)
  • $22.3 million annually in operational costs (equivalent to $111.5 million in savings over a five-year period)

Textile mills that incorporate CbD’s best practices see returns on their investments within nine months. We see tremendous value in leveraging a proven methodology with an established track record of success in working with textile mills. As we continue to expand Mill/ impact and scale high-impact projects, we look forward to seeing more mills around the world improve their environmental performance and produce results that positively shift the apparel industry and its supply chain.