Q&A: Why Wrangler Joined The Sustainability Consortium

By Bart King
Jan 15, 2016 9:20 AM ET

Originally Appeared at Sustainable Brands: New Metrics

The Sustainability Consortium (TSC) announced earlier this week the addition of its newest member — denim brand Wrangler.

Formed in 2009, TSC brings together major brands with academic researchers, NGOs and other stakeholders. The nonprofit works to establish science-based metrics and consensus on the most effective means to improve the environmental and social impacts of products in dozens of different industry sectors.

Wrangler is one of the largest denim brands in the world. With mass retail partners such as Walmart and Target, Wrangler brings significant industry influence to TSC’s Clothing, Footwear and Textiles (CFT) Working Group. (Full disclosure: Wrangler is a client of my consulting firm.)

Here Wrangler’s new director of sustainability, Roian Atwood, and TSC CEO Sheila Bonini discuss what the new membership means for the two organizations.

Let’s start with the obvious. Why is Wrangler joining TSC?

Atwood: Wrangler manufactures about 60 percent of its apparel in company-owned facilities. When I arrived at VF Jeanswear (Wrangler’s parent company) in late 2014, there were already robust processes in place for continuous improvement on environmental and social metrics within those facilities and tier 1 contract manufacturing.

However, TSC’s work continues to highlight that the industry’s most substantial impacts are with tier 2 suppliers. So we want to encourage sustainable practices further up the supply chain. VF’s responsible sourcing team does some of this already, and our participation in the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC) is helpful. But I believe TSC’s methodology will be particularly effective for influencing the way Wrangler’s tier 2 material suppliers use water and other critical resources.

What is it about TSC’s methodology that allows a brand such as Wrangler to engage with distant suppliers?

Bonini: TSC leads full lifecycle research that establishes the connection to distant suppliers from the raw material extraction stage to the final manufacturing facilities. With NGOs and academics, we’ve navigated through many of the industry’s toughest issues enabling companies to spend valuable time on taking action, instead of debating the issues. We identify the environmental and social hotspots throughout the supply chain to highlight the unique opportunities a brand like Wrangler can pursue on its sustainability journey. For example, the impacts of sourcing cotton fabric or polyester materials are considered alongside the impacts of dyeing processes.

We also create global, standardized, quantitative metrics that enable one system across multiple geographies, impact areas and stakeholders. The standardized approach enables Wrangler to track progress over time and only collect data once to share with many retailers.

Atwood: Yes, Sheila’s final point is significant. We’re mindful of how survey fatigue can decrease engagement among our suppliers. We want them to understand that TSC’s key performance indicators (KPIs) are important to their business, because they are important to a unified community of retailers, manufacturers and NGOs.

For Wrangler, the KPIs also are a useful focal point for developing core competencies in the supply chain around hotspot issues. In 2016, we’re beginning in-person trainings with our tier 1 and 2 suppliers around the world to address the KPIs — having them in the room at the same time strengthens our supplier network. Our goal is to help suppliers understand the key issues, learn to track and measure impacts, and ultimately improve on their performance.  

What major issues and tools are being addressed by TSC to drive sustainable innovations in apparel?

Bonini: Key areas in the textiles supply chain include energy, waterchemicalsworker health and safety, as well as impacts associated with fiber production. For example, water conservation is being addressed through efficiency measures and innovative enzyme applications during processing that reduce overall water usage. For worker health and safety issues, the most recent commitments made in the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building safety inform the KPIs for social issues. TSC is also focused on driving alignment within the apparel industry by partnering with the SAC to create a unified approach to issues. Wrangler has already been an important partner in facilitating that partnership.

In regards to tools, TSC recently reviewed two platforms that hold promise for integrating measurement in alignment with industry initiatives. They were McKinsey’s RedE tool for assessing energy-efficiency opportunities, and the NRDC’s Clean by Design platform for implementing environmental best practices at textile mills. Our reviews identified these tools as useful models to adopt in textile supply chains to address our KPIs.

How does TSC’s Clothing, Footwear and Textiles working group differ from the SAC?

Bonini: TSC and SAC are complementary in our approaches. SAC is focused on the industry and goes deep into facility issues, while TSC takes a full lifecycle approach across multiple sectors to develop quantitative measurements that drive impact all the way through the supply chain. The key is that data collected using the SAC Higg Index can be used to respond to TSC KPIs.

Atwood: I agree with everything Sheila said, but I would add that under Higg, when a supplier is not performing well, it affects the supplier’s score. In TSC, when a supplier isn’t performing well, it affects a brand score — Wrangler’s score. Being a member of TSC allows for a cross-pollination of ideas from a variety of stakeholders, including retail customers, various suppliers across different product categories and industries, plus the academic researchers and NGOs who provide a unique perspective on key issues. Aligning our brand with the consensus of the entire value chain strengthens not only the impact of our environmental and social initiatives, but also our commercial interests. By embracing the KPIs for textiles, we create shared priorities around which we can maintain productive conversations and drive internal initiatives. It’s a holistic approach.

How do TSC members provide insights for the best approaches to developing sustainable apparel? And how is Wrangler able to help TSC?

Bonini: TSC members are an integral part of our methodology through stakeholder review, advocating for TSC in their daily work, and providing real-use cases back to fellow members. In fact, Roian presented in our TSC Implementation Series of webinars earlier this month. The series showcases how members use TSC tools within their sustainability programs. Wrangler will be a great asset to The Consortium’s A-list collection of members.

Wrangler’s parent company, VF, is a member of several industry groups, including SAC and Better Cotton Initiative (BCI). What’s the significance of Wrangler joining TSC as a distinct brand?

Atwood: Wrangler has benefited tremendously on its sustainability journey from the corporate-level work of VF and its responsible-sourcing teams. Part of the reason I was brought on is to lead Wrangler on the next stage of the journey, which includes working more closely with our retail and supplier partners and sharing the brand’s distinct sustainability story more broadly. Joining TSC is an early step on that path. It strengthens the existing sustainability culture and gives voice to Wrangler’s brand aspirations within the industry.

How would you describe that sustainability culture and aspiration?

Atwood: Wrangler has a strong engineering culture. The brand launched in 1947 as a line of cowboy jeans. But its history in manufacturing workwear (particularly overalls) actually goes back to the early 1900s. We rely on skilled engineers who design, build and monitor our advanced manufacturing processes, and they take pride in continuous improvement and technological innovation.

For example, we’ve saved nearly 14 million KWh of electricity through efficiency upgrades since 2008. Now we’re considering a major investment in renewables for our manufacturing facilities in Mexico. We’ve also installed state-of-the-art water treatment facilities, and we’re drastically increasing the amount of water reuse that’s looped indefinitely through our processes to reduce the impact on local water supplies. It’s my role to extend these priorities into our supply chain with our responsible-sourcing team to deliver more sustainable products at accessible prices.

The second part of the answer is that the people who wear Wrangler care deeply about the outdoors, and about family. Whether it's a rancher in Montana, a bass fisher on a lake in Alabama, a dad in the suburbs or a student, these people value our products for durability and comfort when they work and play outside. This gives us a unique platform and privilege to communicate with them about why sustainability matters, and what we’re trying to do about it.