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Video: Click to watch highlights from a Clean by Design/Vogue event, April, 2012.

When the United States shifted manufacturing overseas, we also "outsourced" the associated pollution and greenhouses gases produced by this manufacturing to countries where there are fewer pollution controls.

In addition to threatening the health of local communities in these countries, this resulting pollution can also affect our own health and our environment because so many pollutants -- such carbon, soot (particulate matter), pesticides, mercury and more -- can travel great distances and enter our local environment and food chain.

Clean by Design is an innovative program to use the buying power of multinational corporations as a lever to reduce the environmental impacts of their suppliers abroad. Clean by Design focuses on improving process efficiency to reduce waste and emissions and improve the environment.

Manufacturing practices in less-developed countries are generally less efficient than in the developed world. That means they waste money by using more energy, water, and materials than necessary. But by improving the efficiency in the manufacturing processes, there are plenty of opportunities to both save money and improve the environment.

Even marginal improvements in manufacturing to these countries' factories have the potential to deliver excellent cost savings. Clean by Design promotes just these kinds of opportunities to increase efficiency (in energy, water, and chemical usage) and thereby reduce the environmental footprint while saving the factory money.

Four Impact Areas

raw materials

Raw Materials

The choice of raw materials for clothing has large impacts on the environment. Natural fibers like cotton are often assumed to be a more environmentally responsible choice, but this is not necessarily true. Cotton is notorious for its intensive use of water and pesticides. The same goes for "natural" dyes, which can rely on the harvest of millions of insects or plant bark to achieve color the "natural" way. These dyes often also require the use of supplementary chemicals that contain toxic metals. Fiber choice also drives consumer-care requirements, which can indirectly impact the consumption of water, energy and toxic chemicals. Read more...



Textile dyeing and finishing mills are particularly high-volume, high-impact producers of water pollution and carbon dioxide emissions. Through extensive hands-on research in China, NRDC has developed 10 practical, easy-to-implement best practices for textile mills that significantly reduce water, energy and chemical use, thereby improving manufacturing efficiency. In fact, all of NRDC's best practices for responsible sourcing pay themselves back in less than a year. Designers, retailers and brands can reduce the footprint of their global supply chain by encouraging or requiring mills to adopt these improvements and reward those that do so with more business. Read more...



The apparel industry is a global enterprise, where raw materials, manufacturers and retailers are routinely on opposite sides of the globe. Each designer and retailer must choose among container ships, railroads, trucks and airplanes to move their garments from factory to market. Each mode of transportation sends different levels of pollution into the environment and affects different populations and ecosystems around the world. But there are many choices a retailer can make to decrease the impact of global transport and to help protect public health. Read more...

consumer care

Consumer Care

Once purchased, the way a consumer cleans and cares for garments can have a surprisingly large impact on water and energy use. In fact, clothes that are frequently laundered or dry-cleaned make their biggest environmental impact once they leave the store. Washing in cold water and minimizing dry cleaning (even so-called "organic dry cleaning") can reduce impacts substantially. Read more...

What NRDC Is Doing

NRDC's Clean by Design program completed the development of the 10 Best Practices in 2009, and we began rolling out these practices to textile mills in 2010. At the end of 2011, we have more than 15 mills with complete assessments, which are now working on putting these ideas into practice in their factories. NRDC provides ongoing help and advice to mills through technical workshops and mill "network" meetings where factories can share experiences and ask questions from experts.

Clean by Design has also completed an initiative in Bangladesh, one of the fastest growing countries for the textile industry. Working with the same retailers and brands, we assessed mills there and developed a set of best practices that are tailored to Bangladeshi specifications.

Finally, in 2011, we were pleased to add Target to our community of participating multinational retailers that includes: Gap, Levi's, and H&M. We are excited by the positive response from the industry and look forward to working closely with these mills through 2012.

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