This article is part of our Rising Star Portfolio series.
Hunter green. Mint green. Khaki green. Neon green. While these shades may go in and out of fashion, a whole slew of major apparel retailers are making a more long-lasting commitment to the art of being truly green.
According to a recent New York Times article, a new organization called the Sustainable Apparel Coalition is creating a database, with plans to track and disclose the environmental impact of various factors involved in apparel manufacturing. Its ultimate goal: a sustainability score for every article of clothing that shows up in stores.
Coalition members include well-known retail names such as Wal-Mart
For years, some Timberland products have sported a sustainability score called the Green Index, akin to an environmental "nutrition label." Its innovations predate similar efforts, such as the recent "Eco Index" populated by companies like Timberland, Nike
Skeptics, before you get fired up, note that the coalition isn't solely made up of corporations trying to support their own greenwashing efforts. Entities like the Environmental Protection Agency and the Environmental Defense Fund are also founding members. They should be able to lend valuable feedback and legitimacy to such a database and labeling system.
Why bother? Plenty of reasons
A sustainability index for clothing will help the most environmentally conscious, transparent companies stand out from the crowd, lending added goodwill to their brands and products. As sustainability efforts become more prevalent, more and more environmentally conscious -- and concerned -- consumers will desire more data on how their clothing is made.
A lot of people now realize "cheap" merchandise often includes many hidden costs. Consumers have every right to make far more educated choices about what they're buying than their current options allow. The aforementioned New York Times article pointed out that a satellite image of Xintang, China, shows blue dye and other chemicals washing downriver from that city's factories, many of which make an American favorite: blue jeans.
Many of us don't contemplate these kinds of costs when deciding what jeans to buy. I'm betting more of us would like to know what we're paying for, and whether it has a negative impact on the environment.
As far as investing goes, environmental damage represents big risks: Last year, environmental research firm Trucost released a report about the costs of environmental damage, stating that the top 3,000 companies were responsible for $2.15 trillion in environmental damage in 2008. If something doesn't change, annual environmental costs could soar to $28.6 trillion by 2050.
More and more companies are scrambling to participate in such environmental disclosures and green up their operations. That's why I bought Timberland for my Rising Star portfolio, which is focused on socially responsible investing.
When Timberland launched its own index way back when, it was ahead of the curve. Today, the idea that once seemed frivolous now looks like serious business -- and Timberland's no longer alone.
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Nike and Timberland are Motley Fool Stock Advisor selections. Motley Fool Options has recommended a diagonal call position on Wal-Mart, which is a Motley Fool Inside Value and a Motley Fool Global Gains pick. The Fool owns shares of Timberland and Wal-Mart. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.
Alyce Lomax does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned; for more on this and other topics, check back at Fool.com, or follow her on Twitter: @AlyceLomax. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.