Two significant tools for American designers seeking to make their design process more sustainable have recently been announced. The first tool, which hopefully will have broad and positive implications for manufacturers of outdoor industry goods, is Eco-Index . Basically an assessment tool which evaluates a product’s environmental impact, Eco-Index allows manufacturers to measure six areas in their product’s lifecycle: materials, packaging, product manufacturing and assembly, transportation and distribution, use and service, and end of life. Each of these areas is evaluated through seven critical “lenses”: land use intensity, water, waste, biodiversity, chemistry/toxics – people, chemistry/toxics – environment, and energy use/greenhouse gas emissions. While an initiative created by the Outdoor Industry Association for outdoor apparel and equipment, Eco-Index has the potential for scalability within other industries nationally and internationally. Currently, it is in Phase 1 Beta Testing, so it is unavailable to manufacturers outside of its working group until its launch date of January 2011.
The other tool, Source4Style , is one aimed specifically towards fashion and interior designers, and independent designers in particular. This business-to-business interface lets designers source sustainable fabrics through aggregating and displaying information such as hi-resolution photos, fabric structure, fiber content, dyes and finishes, technical specifications, production location, production minimums, lead-time required, pricing, swatch requesting and manufacturers’ contact information. Co-founders Summer Rayne Oakes (who will be speaking here at the museum on October 28th as part of a sustainable design panel) and Benita Singh envision Source4Style as a 24/7 trade show free to all designers – it currently features over 25 suppliers and 1000 textiles, with many more on the way. Currently, sustainable fashion designers spend a disproportionate amount of their time sourcing material rather than designing, thus this tool definitely fills a need. However, Source4Style does not actually guarantee a potential supplier’s sustainability claims, nor will it perform quality control. Source4Style is currently in invite-only beta-testing mode, but should be publically launching soon.
Both Eco-Index and Source4Style reflect the move within design towards collaboration and open-source information. They also speak to the fundamental difficulties designers face when they try to incorporate sustainable ideals into their design processes. While these tools unfortunately are not “consumer-facing” (they do not provide information for consumers), it is hopeful that they will create more transparency regarding a product’s environmental impact. Ideally, an industry initiative like the Eco-Index will evolve into a tool for consumers that incorporates a rating system and labeling scheme evaluating the environmental impact of potential purchases.