Reducing Harmful Chemicals in Our Supply Chain
Some consumers want products that are wrinkle-free, stain-resistant, and non-shrink. Others need products that repel water, trap warmth, and even resist fire. All this requires careful and responsible chemistry.
Our business is built on offering the best quality products to our consumers to support their activities and lifestyles. We produce apparel and footwear for extreme athletes, fire fighters and chefs as well as outdoor and fashion enthusiasts. The products we make are expected to achieve high levels of performance and functionality including water repellency, fire protection and warmth. Our products use dyes for color and come with consumer-preferred attributes that make them wrinkle-free, stain-resistant and non-shrink. We rely on sophisticated chemistry to help us produce high quality products that meet the many functional needs of our consumers.
To that end, we work diligently to design, manufacture and deliver products that meet consumer needs, while also adhering to strict global product safety requirements and promoting greener, alternative chemistries. This work is carried out through a variety of programs and initiatives, including:
- Managing chemicals during production and reducing chemical use in our manufacturing
- Developing better input chemistry from the design phase forward
- Improving waste water quality through audits and the VF Wastewater Guidelines
- Collaboration with diverse stakeholders, including suppliers and customers, as well as our peers, chemical manufacturers, governments and non-governmental organizations, such as:
- AFIRM: The Apparel and Footwear International RSL Management working group
- AAFA: American Apparel and Footwear Association
- GAFTI: Global Apparel, Footwear and Textile Initiative
- The Sustainable Apparel Coalition
- Green Chemistry and Commerce Council
- Outdoor Industry Association Chemicals Management Working Group
- Restricting chemicals from our products via our Restricted Substances List (RSL)
Responsible chemistry has always been a priority for VF, but, as a global footwear and apparel leader, we recognized that we could do better. Chemicals are typically managed at their endpoints, when they are either released into the air or water systems, or are contained in the final product. However, if chemicals are instead managed up front, the endpoints take care of themselves. So, we set out to create a more holistic approach that starts in the design phase and works to reduce the number of chemicals that make it into our supply chain in the first place.
VF’s Restricted Substances List serves as the basic mechanism to insure our factories are in compliance with local, national and international laws. The list is included in our Terms of Engagement for suppliers and is implemented through vendor trainings, product design, factory audits and product testing. We require all of our suppliers, vendors, business partners and licensees to implement and verify compliance with the RSL.
Using the RSL as a starting point, we are working to continuously improve our approach to responsible chemistry and simplify the process for all of our suppliers. In 2013 we developed CHEM-IQ℠, an innovative, new chemistry program that will advance responsible chemical management throughout our supply chain.
CHEM-IQ℠ was developed in partnership with University of Leeds in England and University of Massachusetts Lowell in the U.S. – both known for their expertise in green chemistry – and with strong support from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Modern Testing Services, a global network of chemical laboratories.
“Consulting with NRDC and various other stakeholders and technical experts, VF has taken the time and invested the resources to launch the most information-based and practical approach to chemical phase down that I know. The rest of the industry will learn what it needs to know from the results of the VF initiative.”
Director of NRDC’s Health and Environment Program
CHEM-IQ℠ is a pragmatic, scalable program rooted in our commitment to continuous improvement – and inspired by the simplicity of the pH strip. We view this program as our jumping-off point – from here we will continue to evolve and improve our efforts to drive traceability, accountability and positive change. CHEM-IQ℠ will continuously raise the bar by eliminating the “worst” 10 percent of chemicals (identified by hazardous composition and volume) used in our supply chain each year. Through CHEM-IQ℠, VF will improve and accelerate the use of safer chemicals across our portfolio of products and brands.
CHEM-IQ℠ outlines a five-step process that provides actionable information on chemical selection for VF and our suppliers.
- Each factory where we operate submits a chemical inventory.
- VF’s CHEM-IQ℠ program manager determines which chemicals from the factory require screening and informs the factory.
- The factory submits a small sample of each chemical to our nominated chemical laboratory.
- The laboratory analyzes each submitted chemical for over 400 hazardous substances, giving the chemical a rating of preferred (green), allowed (yellow), due diligence required (orange), or prohibited (red).
- The factory receives a report on all chemicals submitted and is required to phase out use of any prohibited chemicals.
“Chemical management has been getting increasingly complex in supply chains. We recognized the only way forward was to address these complicated issues at the beginning of the process and reduce the complexity of the whole management system. Inspired by the simplicity and scalability of a pH strip, we innovated the CHEM-IQ℠ screening process."
Vice President of VF Product Stewardship and Sustainability, Supply Chain
In 2013, we piloted the program at select factories in Turkey, Mexico and Los Angeles. In 2014, we rolled CHEM-IQ℠ out to all factory locations in China. So far, we have screened more than 1,000 chemicals from 102 factories and successfully removed 68 tons of non-preferred chemicals from our supply chain. Feedback from our suppliers has been extremely positive. Partners have shared that the CHEM-IQ℠ program makes it clear which chemicals are allowed and which are prohibited and is easy to follow – the program is cost effective, quick, and the results are clear and meaningful.
Our (RSL) has been shared with product manufacturers for years and will continue to detail those chemicals that are prohibited in all applications. Going forward, we expect to have CHEM-IQ℠ fully in place at all of our tier-one factories, globally, in 2015. As we roll out the program across our supply chain, we will continue to work with our suppliers and external partners to seek ways to further strengthen our commitment to responsible chemistry. We will also share what we learn with industry groups to improve industry-wide environmental, health, safety and product performance.