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The EP&L didn't just come out of the surf. Kering, Volcom's Paris-headquartered parent company (which runs high-fashion brands Stella McCartney, Alexander McQueen and Saint Laurent, as well as sportswear brands Puma and San Clemente's Electric), made a commitment in November 2011: All of its luxury and sport-and-lifestyle brands must implement an EP&L analysis so that the parent company could complete an EP&L by 2016. Spearheading the initiative was Jochen Zeitz, the former chief sustainability officer of Kering, former chairman of Puma and a current Kering board member.
"If we treated our planet as we treat any other service provider, Puma would have to pay 8 million euros [$10.5 million] to nature for services rendered to our core operations, such as Puma offices, warehouses and stores in 2010 alone," Zeitz said in a company statement while he was still Puma chief. "In addition, 137 million euros [$180 million] would be owed to nature from Puma's supply chain of external partners."
Zeitz stressed that the EP&L wouldn't affect the company's net earnings. The announcement immediately received praise from business groups and governments across Europe; he received awards for his efforts, the coolest probably being named honorary warden and trustee of the Kenya Wildlife Service Endowment Fund.
Volcom is scheduled to wrap up its EP&L by the end of this year, hiring consultants to help accurately account for everything, according to Volcom senior director of sustainability Derek Sabori. He has been working to make Volcom a more eco-friendly company since 2010, one year before being acquired by the company currently known as Kering.
However, the EP&L exercise is still unproven, says Susan Egan Keane, deputy director of the health program of Natural Defense Resources Council. She's rooting for it, but there's a chance it might turn into nothing more than great public relations. "The jury is still out on whether they will have a substantial impact on business decisions," she says.
EP&Ls are in their infancy, and Kering's family of brands are the only ones publicly committed to the effort. However, action-sports companies are starting to at least appear to want to follow similar steps, to demonstrate to consumers and peers alike how they're becoming more eco-friendly. Almost every month, some apparel industry group holds a conclave to talk about how businesses can become better environmental citizens. From July 9 to 11, American Apparel & Footwear Association, the big dog of fashion-biz trade groups, sponsored a sustainability conference in Santa Monica. On June 28, Surf Industry Manufacturers Association (SIMA) scheduled a Sustainability Boot Camp at the palatial Surf and Sand resort in Laguna Beach, but it was postponed because not enough people signed up, according to one of the event’s speakers.
From these powwows have emerged eco-protocols that give apparel manufacturers a map toward becoming a little more environmentally kosher. In 2007, Boulder, Colorado-headquartered trade group Outdoor Industry Association's sustainability working group started working on the Eco Index. Like the EP&L, it helps manufacturers measure how much they are taking out of the environment. In 2011, the Eco Index was used to help form the Higg Index, used by the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, whose members include Patagonia, Levi's, H&M, Walmart, and Target. Considered a big step forward, the Higg Index helps apparel and footwear manufacturers judge what manufacturing practices and materials won't hurt the environment, as well as what could cause an environmental disaster.
For now, only individual companies can view Higg results, and its information won't be made available to the public. It's considered a work in progress, according to Tim Gnatek, spokesman for Sustainable Apparel Coalition, and results might see the light of day only after thorough scrutinizing by academics and groups who can validate the strength and veracity of the rating system.
Currently, companies are deciding what steps they should take to make the best environmental impact, says Keane. Many apparel businesses start with their retail stores, where they look for ways to cut energy usage and seek to use eco-friendly materials in their packaging and products—because that's what consumers see first in a company.
Another great step is acknowledging failings. Last year, Quiksilver executive chairman Bob McKnight admitted as much in an interview with Global Trade that—pardon the pun—made waves in the industry for its frankness.
"At the end of the day, a lot of the stuff we make is not good for the environment—we make wetsuits, we make surfboards, we make plastic things, but we try to counter it as best as we can," McKnight said.
At least the Huntington Beach-based megapower, with more than $2 billion in sales in 2012, has taken initiative, knowing others will follow. Quiksilver, the largest action-sports company, also recycles more than 100 tons of its waste and ensures that 30 percent of the office paper it uses comes from recycled sources. Plus, this spring, it introduced the Diamond Dobby boardshort; 75 percent of the line is made from eco-friendly materials such as recycled polyester. But it's a Herculean task for a giant company beholden to impatient investors. The Weekly requested an update of Quiksilver's eco efforts, but representatives didn't reply to an interview request by press time.