You can't change what you can't see. The adage applies in any number of contexts. For too long, the waste problem in the apparel and textile industry was hidden, lurking in the corners of warehouses and distribution centers and landfills. As part of our mission to show brands and retailers how to turn the unspoken waste problem into an opportunity to embrace a circular economy, we had to develop metrics to fully understand the impact of unsellable inventory. This is how the Renewal Workshop Impact Score came to life.
The score has four parts to it:
We measure the Environmental Impact of the original product. We use Life-cycle Assessment (LCA) data to determine the energy, greenhouse gas, water, and toxin consumption used in making the product the first time. (You can find all the nerdy details on the methodology below)
We use the actual weight of the product to determine how much has been reduced from landfill.
We want to see more money in a circular economy, not a linear one. We count the money invested in the circular economy using the purchase price for each item.
We track the number of Living Wage jobs created as a result of our work. We use the number of current full-time employees at The Renewal Workshop to count our contribution to creating re-manufacturing jobs in the US.
All four numbers are weighted equally. The formula (detailed below) takes the various savings of the environmental impacts and buckets them into a grade for each product. Values representing these grades are added to the weight, the price and the (ever growing) TRW FTE count. Voila – that’s the number you see for every product we sell.
We are often asked if a high score is better than a low score. The honest answer is no. Extending the life of every single product we sell makes an immediate positive difference. By choosing a product with a high environmental impact like conventional cotton, which uses a lot of water and toxics, you are preventing those resources from having to be used. Another item might be more expensive or weigh more, so it is contributing in a different way to reduce landfill and expand the circular economy. There are no wrong choices here. You’re doing better for people and the planet by buying Renewed. Period.
LCA impact of the original product.
The Renewal Workshop partnered with the firm of Brown & Wilmanns Environmental to conduct a Lifecycle Analysis for the major textile fibers we see in the apparel we sell from our brand partners. The purpose of conducting this research was to gather a general idea of the impact of the clothing we are renewing through the lens of energy consumption, greenhouse gas emissions, water consumption and toxic impact.
The materials measured and used as factors for The Renewal Workshop’s LCA impact are: Cotton, Polyester, Nylon 6, Hemp, Rayon, Spandex and Wool. We acknowledge that this is not a comprehensive list, and while these materials make up about 80% of the materials we process, we make some major assumptions to determine scores for products that are not covered in this list. For those products we created an “Other” score, this is used for materials not covered in the list above as well as for products where the material is unknown. The Other score was created from averaging the score of cotton and polyester, two products that are on different ends of the materials impact spectrum.
The Total LCA score is the equal weighting of the following 4 contributors – energy, greenhouse gas, water consumption and toxicology.
Also The Renewal Workshop plans on adding more data to our score over time. And our ultimate goal is to gather the direct impact score for a product when it is measured by the original brand from its Higg Index score.
Data for The Renewal Workshop estimates of environmental savings is derived primarily from the GaBi and Ecoinvent databases and modeled using GaBi life cycle assessment (LCA) software. Additional information for several materials was obtained from LCA studies published in peer reviewed journals to supplement the information from the commercial databases.
LCA is a method of evaluating environmental and human harm that is rooted in identifying all significant inputs and outputs associated with all the processes related to the portion of a product’s life cycle that is within the scope of study and then applying appropriate factors to calculate impacts on the environment and human health.
The life cycle elements for the textiles that The Renewal Workshop evaluated begins with the source of the origin materials (growing and harvesting a crop, extracting fossil fuel resources, etc.) and includes all the processing to turn the materials into a dyed and finished textile. In LCA terms, this is considered a cradle to gate study. It does not include any further aspects of the life cycle, such as cutting and sewing into a garment, distribution, consumer use and care, and end of life disposal, reuse, and/or recycling as the goal of the project is to compare the potential textile related savings from repairing and reusing existing garments rather than purchasing new garments.
The GaBi and Ecoinvent databases incorporate information collected from factories, farms, extraction production, and a wide range of other industrial and commercial activities that are associated with the supply chains that result in products and services. The data are checked in multiple ways and include both public and private checks. Thinkstep, the company that developed and markets the GaBi database, maintains and updates the database on a continuous cycle based on new scientific information, data, technologies, efficiencies, and methodologies. The factors (known as characterization factors) for calculating impacts from inputs (e.g., energy, water, chemicals, other resources) and outputs (products, by-products, pollution emissions) are updated as new scientific information is identified. Similarly, the software for managing data and calculating impacts for a particular LCA is maintained and updated.
The basic design of an LCA using the GaBi software involves developing a plan that incorporates all the processes and sub-processes involved in the scope of the study (e.g., from source materials to a dyed and finished textile), populating the plan with the appropriate data (e.g., process data for cotton, polyester, nylon, silk, etc.), identifying the impacts that will be calculated, and running the software program to calculate the identified impacts.
For the textile project, global average data was used for each fiber type if it was available in one of the databases. If not available, either regional data was used or data from peer reviewed other sources outside of the databases was identified and incorporated into the modeling. Where necessary, the data for different processes were adjusted such that they following a standardized reference unit (known as the functional unit or how much of the product is represented by the data, e.g., 1 kg) and system boundaries, which is what activities of which portions of the life cycle are considered to obtain consistent results across all the textile fiber types.
More information about GaBi data is in the reference, “GaBi Database & Modelling Principles
2013” available at http://www.gabi-software.com/uploads/media/GaBi_Modelling_Principles_2013.pdf.
The Renewal Workshop’ product LCA score is based off the following formula. The percentage of the material multiplied by that materials’ LCA score added to the other materials if a blended product.
Example a 50% cotton, 50% Polyester shirt.
.5 * cotton total LCA score + .5 * polyester total LCA score.
The results of scoring all of our products created a spectrum of scores that would become to unwieldly to capture in our Impact Score. Therefore we created 4 buckets of scores and assigned a value to each of these either as an A rating, B rating, C rating or D rating. Products with a high environmental impact receive an A rating – this approach was chosen because we want to reward the reuse of a product that had a harmful environmental impact as it prevents the need for a new product of a negative impact to be made again.
Reduction of Material to Landfill
This score is based off the weight of the garment. Therefore we can measure the lbs of reduction of material to landfill. All Renewed Apparel is measured during the renewal process and this weight is captured to determine this score.
For example, a sweater that weighs 1.05lbs would have the number 1.05 added as part of the total loyalty score.
Money invested in a circular economy
In order to create a circular economy more needs to be invested in that economy and less in a linear economy. The price of every piece of Renewed Apparel contributes to that circular economy. So this score is the price posted of the Renewed item.
For example, if the price of a Renewed Shirt is $45, then the score here would be 45.
Number of Living Wage jobs in the circular economy
The renewable lifestyle is something that values the hard work of all for the greater good. We value our employees and the ability to pay them a living wage. This score comes from the number of Full-Time employees who work for The Renewal Workshop. As the company grows and we increase the number of USA manufacturing jobs this score will also increase.
 The Higg Index is an industry tool that apparel and textile brands use to measure the social and environmental impact of the products they make, to learn more check out www.sustainableapparelcoalition.com