While we aim for superior performance, we also strive to mitigate environmental impacts and improve supplier practices associated with our key materials.
It’s important for us to take a look at the key materials used in our products to better determine our supply chain footprin.
TAKING A LOOK AT THE ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACTS OF MATERIALS IN OUR PRODUCTS
Procuring and processing the materials we use in our products is traditionally a resource-intensive procedure. Growing cotton uses a substantial amount of water. Tanning leather often generates large amounts of waste. That’s why we are asking our designers to incorporate environmental performance into their decision-making processes. We are embarking on the process of identifying the most commonly used materials in order to better understand our potential points of leverage and to set targets for more sustainable materials.
A number of our brands are industry leaders in their responsible use of key materials such as cotton down and leather. By sharing these best practices across all our brands, VF has the opportunity to transform its products and our industry.
Below we discuss how we source and utilize the materials we use most, by volume, across our company.
More than half of VF’s cotton originates in the U.S., where farming practices typically employ best-in-class practices for labor and environmental stewardship. Therefore, VF is focusing our cotton efforts on driving change where we can make the greatest difference in farmers lives and the environment – the small holder farm.
In 2013, VF reached its goal of having 1 percent of total cotton used (2,000 tons) qualified as sustainable, meaning it’s harvested as organic, fair-trade or other sustainability initiative. For 2015, we have set a new goal of 3 percent (6,000 tons).
To achieve this goal, we’ve partnered with the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI), an organization dedicated to making global cotton production better for the people who produce it, better for the environment it grows in and better for the sector’s future. Additionally, VF is supporting Better Cotton supply creation by directly funding a farm level project in Hebei, China – a collaborative effort with Solidaridad, a well-respected International NGO.
VF annually purchases about 1 percent of the world’s cotton, which requires land roughly 32 times the size of Manhattan Island, New York, to fill our orders.
Growing this cotton traditionally requires extensive use of water, fertilizers and pesticides, practices that are costly to the farmer and leave a significant environmental footprint. The exact amount of water required for cotton cultivation varies by region, but as much as 75 percent of the water required to manufacture a pair of jeans or a shirt from start to finish can be attributed to the cotton growth alone.
VF is also committed to responsibly sourcing our cotton and firmly opposes the use of child labor in the harvesting of cotton. We are aware of reports documenting the systemic use of forced child labor in the harvest of cotton in Uzbekistan, one of the world’s largest exporters of cotton, and we have pledged not to source Uzbek cotton for the manufacturing of any of our products until the Government of Uzbekistan ends the practice of forced child labor in its cotton sector. Until the elimination of this practice is independently verified by the International Labor Organization, we will maintain this pledge.
VF ensures that there are no traces of inhumane down sourcing processes in our supply chain.
VF objects to inhumane down sourcing practices anywhere within its supply chain. We have paid careful attention as, in recent years, animal rights groups have called attention to inhumane practices that include live plucking and force-feeding of geese for foie gras production. Down and feathers used in apparel come from a complicated supply chain often characterized by limited transparency and traceability. When taken together, these factors create a complicated challenge for VF as we navigate the ethics of our down sourcing.
The North Face® brand – our brand most directly impacted by these practices – has taken decisive steps to help reduce the potential of any inhumane practices from its down suppliers.
The Responsible Down Standard (RDS), developed by The North Face®, was one of the first global standards to provide strict certification requirements, traceability and be open for any entity to adopt. It has the ability to evaluate and trace the original source of down used in a product, thereby creating a chain of custody from gosling to end product.
In 2013, The North Face® brand and Control Union, an accredited third-party certification body, traveled to Eastern Europe and Asia during the primary down harvesting seasons to inspect the brand’s entire supply chain, including hatcheries, farms, abattoirs, collectors, processing facilities and garment manufacturers. The goal was to evaluate the possibility of creating and implementing an animal welfare and traceability standard. Through this research, the team—including Textile Exchange, a global nonprofit dedicated to sustainability in the apparel and textile industry—began to develop a process to certify that down does not come from animals that have been subjected to any unnecessary harm such as force-feeding or live-plucking. They also sought to develop a traceability system to validate the original source of down used in any product.
In January 2014, The North Face® brand announced the completion of its Responsible Down Standard (RDS), a global standard through which any brand can evaluate and certify it’s complete down supply chain. The RDS was developed in partnership with Control Union and Textile Exchange. The RDS will allow any brand to conduct third-party audits of its down supply chain to ensure the ethical treatment of animals and validate all claims through an established chain of custody process.
The North Face® brand has gifted ownership of the standard to Textile Exchange, which will have full rights to distribute and update the RDS as it sees fit. Giving rights to the standard to Textile Exchange means it is available to the entire apparel industry. We believe that the collective use of the RDS globally will promote positive animal welfare conditions and traceability in the down supply chain at a significantly larger scale than The North Face® brand could accomplish on its own.
Timberland® leads the apparel industry in leather manufacturing practices.
VF objects to the inhumane treatment of cattle. Our Timberland® brand has led the industry in addressing these issues.
In April 2005, the Timberland® brand together with other footwear brands, tanneries and retailers, formed the Leather Working Group (LWG) to promote responsible practices within the leather industry. The LWG has created a protocol to accurately assess the compliance and environmental stewardship of leather manufacturers while promoting best practices and guidelines for continual improvement. The LWG places companies on a rating system – from ‘fail’ to ‘gold’ – that scores factories on their sustainability efforts as they pertain to 10 critical areas such as water and energy use, hazardous substances and air emissions. It is the LWG’s objective to work transparently and seek opinions from NGOs, academic institutions and other stakeholders to inform its decision-making. For more information on the Timberland® brand’s work, visit the brand’s responsibility website.
Since 2009, the Timberland® brand has been committed to sourcing all leather from tanneries that are gold- or silver-rated and today over 99 percent of their overall total footwear leather volume comes from tanneries that have achieved this. In an example of brands sharing best practices in sustainable materials, the Vans® brand has since adopted the Timberland® brand’s standards and produced 25 percent of its leather products using LWG certified leather in 2013.
Many VF brands are focused on using recycled content, especially in their footwear products.
Rubber is one of the most resource-intensive materials used to create footwear; therefore, it is a focus for several of our brands.
The Vans® brand’s iconic waffle sole shoes are made with 20 percent pre-consumer recycled content
The Timberland® brand uses Green Rubber™, a material that substitutes virgin materials with 42 percent post-industrial recycled latex. Through 2013, the Timberland® brand has produced more than 13 million pairs of Green Rubber outsoles using 4 million pounds of recycled rubber.
The North Face® uses materials from recycled bottles to create one of their best-selling lines of jackets.
Thanks to design innovations, the act of recycling a plastic bottle can now contribute to the fleece fibers for The North Face® brand jackets. The brand’s use of Polartec recycled fleece is keeping more than 30 million plastic bottles out of landfills each year. The North Face® brand continues to incorporate post-consumer waste in its products.
The Timberland® brand has utilized recycled PET in its footwear textiles, linings, insulations, and foams – diverting over 50 million plastic bottles from landfills in 2013, and over 128 million bottles in total since they began incorporating recycled PET in 2007.
The SmartWool® brand prohibits its suppliers from mulesing.
Through its partnership business model, the SmartWool® brand has been effective in upholding strict animal welfare and husbandry standards while banning the practice of mulesing from its contracted supply chain. Mulesing is a controversial practice used for reducing parasitic infestation that, under some circumstances, is considered inhumane. The SmartWool® brand works collaboratively with fiber procurement partners to ensure it only contracts for wool from farms that take care of its sheep, its workers and its land. To this end, SmartWool® has adopted the ZQ standard, an independent accreditation program launched by the New Zealand Merino Company that requires woolgrowers to uphold established best practices in the areas of land management and conservation, social and economic sustainability of the wool growing industry, animal welfare (non-mulesed) as well as traceability and transparency of the product back to the source.
In 2012, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) adopted rules intended to address the exploitation and trade of conflict minerals by armed groups to finance violent conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo and neighboring countries in Africa (the DRC region). These rules impose disclosure and due diligence requirements on publicly-traded companies that manufacture products containing certain minerals designated as “conflict minerals” that have been mined in the DRC region.
To facilitate compliance with the SEC rules, VF looks to the OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains of Minerals from Conflict-Affected and High-Risk Areas to inform the measures we seek to implement in our supply chain regarding trade in conflict minerals. We have established a management system consisting of policies, procedures and senior executive oversight to implement these diligence measures. While we do not directly purchase conflict minerals from any source, we are working closely with our suppliers to determine the origin of conflict minerals in our products. VF expects all suppliers of our products and materials to cooperate with our procedures and to seek to purchase materials from sources determined not to be involved in funding conflict in the DRC region. We filed our Form SD required by the SEC rules in June 2014 with the results of our 2013 due diligence efforts, and continue to improve and refine our efforts during 2014.