Approximately 12 million tons of textile waste go into landfills each year in the U.S. With its recently expanded program called Clothes the Loop, The North Face is making great strides to reduce textile waste by setting an ambitious goal of collecting 100,000 pounds of apparel and footwear in the year 2015.
(Photo credit- I:CO)
I had the opportunity to get the details on Clothes the Loop with Adam Mott, who oversees the Corporate Sustainability program at The North Face. He helps develop and integrate the sustainability strategy across the entire business by focusing on the development of environmentally responsible products, implementing greenhouse gas emission management and reduction programs, and by building community engagement programs based on the elimination of operational waste.
What is the Clothes the Loop project and why is it important?
Our heritage at the North Face is built on a love of exploring the outdoors and that means we’re passionate about protecting it.
The program is very simple. Clothes the Loop accepts used apparel and footwear from any brand in any clean and dry condition. This includes anything from t-shirts and beanies to hiking boots and sandals. Items collected through the Clothes the Loop program at The North Face retail locations are sent to a recycling center. Once there, items are sorted into more than 400 categories and designated either to be worn again, repurposed, or recycled into raw materials. The materials are then used again for other products such as insulation, carpet padding, furniture stuffing and even fiber for new apparel and footwear.
Not only is keeping items out of the landfill important from a waste perspective, it also has a major impact on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. For every 2.3 million tons of textiles recovered, it’s the equivalent to removing 1 million cars off the road. In this way, the program enables consumers to actively contribute to climate protection.
How does the Clothes the Loop project align with The North Face’s sustainability goals?
Our sustainability mission is to protect our outdoor playgrounds and communities through environmentally and socially responsible products and business practices. We bring the passion we have for the natural world into our product design and responsible business operations.
Clothes the Loop supports our commitment to reducing waste and giving communities an opportunity to contribute to a healthier planet. We believe in addressing every stage of a product’s lifecycle from design to disposal. All The North Face products have a lifetime warranty; we focus on building products that last a lifetime so that our consumers buy fewer products over time, thereby reducing impacts on the environment.
What type of resources has your company committed to ensure the program’s success?
We piloted the program in 10 stores in 2013, expanded to 27 stores in 2014 and now in 2015 we are in all 83 The North Face retail and outlet stores in the U.S.
What metrics and baselines are being used and how will The North Face track progress?
We have set an ambitious target of collecting more than 100,000 pounds of used apparel and footwear through Clothes the Loop in 2015. We are asking all our stores to highlight this goal and encouraging people to take part. It’s a simple step in reducing overall impact.
Have you formed partnerships with other retail companies or industry groups to accelerate the program?
The North Face decided to partner with I:CO because they provide a convenient way to recycle unwanted clothing and shoes, preserving valuable resources and keeping waste out of landfill. Through their sorting infrastructure, I:CO has achieved a 98% diversion rate from landfill. Their goal is to reach 100% by 2020.
Recycling old apparel and footwear also supports one of our longstanding partners and preserves our outdoor playground. All proceeds from Clothes the Loop go to The Conservation Alliance. This funds community-based campaigns to protect wild places for their habitat and recreation values. The North Face is a founding member of the Conservation Alliance, which recently celebrated 26 years of operation.
What one thing did you discover during the program that was unexpected?
Over the past two years, we have received hundreds of emails from customers requesting Clothes the Loop in their town or city. This has been exciting for us to hear how many people are interested in participating.
Are you seeing the results you thought you would?
We have seen fantastic results with this program to date and as mentioned, have received hundreds of requests from customers to expand it. We are pleased with the results and will continue to reward customers for recycling. We will have an additional incentive later this year for people who participate including bonus rewards within our loyalty program – VIPeaks.
How can consumers be part of the program?
This program is all about consumers. Instead of tossing outworn, unwanted apparel and footwear in the dump, customers can bring in gear from any brand in any clean, dry condition and give these materials a new life. Deposited items are sent to I:CO reprocessing facilities where they are hand sorted and designated to be resold, broken down for reuse or recycled into new raw materials. In return for helping to reduce apparel and footwear waste, customers receive a voucher for $10 off a purchase of $100 or more.
With 12 million tons of textile waste going into landfills in the U.S. each year, that averages out to approximately 70 pounds per person. It is time to step up and take action. We encourage everyone to consider what they do with used footwear and apparel. Whether you live near a The North Face store, outlet or another service provider, we hope consumers seek out one of the many options to help get textiles out of our landfills.