Member Spotlight: Cradle to Cradle Innovation Institute

Learn about SAC member Cradle to Cradle Certified's holistic approach to providing solutions for challenges in the fashion industry.

Cradle to Cradle Certified is an engine for the circular economy, supporting the creation of safe materials that can be perpetually cycled.

What are the biggest environmental and/or social challenges facing Cradle to Cradle Innovation Institute today?

The Fashion Positive Initiative works with brands, designers and suppliers to leverage Cradle to Cradle design methodology and the Cradle to Cradle Certified™ Product Standard—administered by the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute—to provide a continuous improvement pathway toward the development of quality products. Products are assessed across five quality categories including Material Health, Material Reuse, Water Stewardship, Social Fairness and Renewable Energy & Carbon Management.

Fashion Positive and Cradle to Cradle Certified are a perfect match to address challenges that the fashion industry is facing. From overall lack of transparency in the supply chain to toxic chemicals used in the cultivation and production of materials used for apparel to poor labor practices to excessive use of water and poor-quality effluent to high energy use, and, finally, waste — Cradle to Cradle Certified provides holistic approach to providing solutions for these challenges. When possible, we aim to leverage other best practices, standards and certifications in the apparel industry, including Higg Index, Fair Trade, Clean by Design, GOTS Certified, etc., to ensure that all problem areas are captured and improved. Collaboration is a core value of our team.

Our goal is to not only reduce the impact in these challenge areas — but to make a positive impact on the environment and communities through restorative product and circular design.

How does SAC membership and/or use of the Higg Index help you address your sustainability challenges?

In 2014, the SAC launched a working group centered around Recycling Innovation. This working group was composed of SAC members with a vested interest in identifying solutions and piloting a project where feedstock from unwanted fibers is used to create a virgin quality fiber. Since Cradle to Cradle is an engine for creating products equipped for the circular economy, which means that Cradle to Cradle products have also been designed with the ability for perpetual cyclability, it was only natural that we become founders and active members of this working group.

The relevance and importance of this working group is not to be understated — in the United States alone, 28 billion pounds of textiles is discarded by U.S. homes annually, according to the U.S. EPA. Simply, this means that there’s been a blatant “misdirection” of textiles — potentially mistakenly. All of the resources it takes to make our clothes, including use of the earth’s resources, water, energy, the people, chemical use (which can be toxic and bioaccumulative), time, and money—it only makes sense that we would instead look at these materials as “feedstock” for new products and systems. This is what the Reycling Innovation Working Group is all about.

As an effort to continue the work that began with the SAC, the Institute will be leading the continuation of this group. The Institute has gathered a collective of global innovative fiber recyclers/manufacturers and big apparel brands set out to achieve one goal: support and facilitate the development of chemical fiber recycling technologies to allow for Cradle to Cradle solutions and innovations for pre-consumer and post-consumer waste/feedstock into new virgin-quality yarn.

As a member of the SAC, how has your company contributed to the development of the Higg Index or any of the Coalition’s other ongoing projects?

Members of our team have contributed toward the Higg Index revisions processes, including the Product Design Module. Our biggest contribution to-date has been membership and now ownership of the Recycling Innovation Working Group. We endorse and support the adoption of the Higg Index with all of partners throughout the supply chain.

What environmental and/or social and labor practice that is utilized by your company today are you the most proud of?

As I had mentioned above, Cradle to Cradle Certified is an engine for the circular economy, which means that we support the creation of safe materials that can be perpetually cycled. Cradle to Cradle Certified is the only standard of its kind that ensures that all materials created have a pathway for reuse or compostability. Our Standard also has a stringent approach to chemicals assessment and use, knowing the chemical ingredients of every material in a product, and optimizing towards safer materials.

How does belonging to the SAC help NGOs like you make change at the broader, systemic level?

While many of our goals at the granular level vary, all of the SAC members do seem to have a common goal—which is that we’re all working toward restorative production for the fashion and apparel industry. Being an industry-wide collaborative, the SAC provides this forum for conversation, collaboration, common dialogue, and can facilitate these conversations amongst many different types of members. The SAC’s facilitation and involvement in creating the Recycling Innovation Working Group has identified this as an industry need, and has attracted brand partner members as a result. Without these brand members, there wouldn’t be movement in the industry around this issue.

Additionally, the SAC and Higg Index has been an important tool for our partners and the conversations that we have. The Higg Index has provided a commonality, a starting point, for the way in which we begin work with some of our partners.

Lewis Perkins

Lewis Perkins is Senior Vice President of Cradle to Cradle Innovation Institute.

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