The  zero discharge “roadmap” appears to be changing direction. (Photo credit: Qiu Bo/Greenpeace)

The zero discharge “roadmap” appears to be changing direction. (Photo credit: Qiu Bo/Greenpeace)

Leading fashion brands and retailers have joined forces to issue an update on their joint “roadmap” aimed at securing zero discharge of hazardous chemicals in their supply chains by 2020.

But the revised plans have already come under fire from environmental pressure group Greenpeace International, which has accused the companies involved of engineering a “greenwash” designed to avoid taking decisive action on the issue.

The original roadmap was unveiled by apparel companies Adidas Group, C&A, H&M, Li Ning, Nike and Puma in November 2011, with the signatories hailing it as setting a new standard in environmental performance for the global apparel and footwear industry.

Since that time, those signatories have been joined by Esprit, Levi Strauss, G-Star, Jack Wolfskin and Inditex.

But critics may consider that they should have spent more time thinking about the name: Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals (ZDHC) – because that could be set to change.

The updated Joint Roadmap, published this week, talks of a need to “move the conversation” away from the zero discharge element, floating the idea of a rebranding of the group to reflect a more “holistic” approach.

This way of thinking has been hinted at in the past by some of the signatories, who have complained that the theoretical elimination of a fixed list of chemicals from the supply chain is both extraordinarily challenging in practice, and also possibly scientifically impossible – effectively meaning that the main goal of the group can never be met.

The revised roadmap also hints that this fixation with one specific goal might prove a distraction from what it terms the “systemic transformation” of the apparel and footwear industries, instead raising a number of other issues for future debate and action.

Structurally, there will be a new management system to oversee and put into practice annual action plans on specific issues – this year, for instance, a focus on drawing up a list of priority chemicals based on their levels of risk.

The new draft also divides the management of pollution into six individual work streams: risk evaluation, training, disclosure, assessment, audits and stakeholder partnering.

And crucially it sets out a plan to go beyond the original aim of eliminating the discharge of potentially hazardous chemicals such as PFCs and PFOAs, looking instead more generally at water quality in the local areas impacted by textile and apparel production.

The aim is to draw up and agree common standards of water quality – governed by a number of technical measures – by September this year.

Until now, the initiative has issued quarterly progress reports on its activities and plans, but this will be replaced in future by the publication of an annual action plan – as originally envisaged in the November 2011 announcement.

Delaying tactics?
But the group has been accused of delaying tactics by campaigning group Greenpeace International, which claims that rival companies in the sector are now making better progress on eliminating the discharge of hazardous chemicals from their supply chains.

In particular, the group has pointed the finger at sporting goods giants Nike, Adidas and Puma, which it accuses of making “little progress” on the issue over the past 18 months or so.

But despite this – and the lingering possibility that the whole group may be rebranded in the coming months – the 11 signatory companies are determined that their initiative should continue to grow in the near future.

They hope to expand to 20 members during 2013, and to 30 members in 2014, reflecting their statement in November last year that expansion of the project would be “crucial” to its success.

When first announced nearly 18 months ago, the Roadmap to Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals was described by its founders as a “living” document which would continue to be refined in response to research, pilot projects and input from new members.

The revised roadmap is evidence of that prediction being fulfilled: “living” it may be, but its evolution and expansion during 2013 will be crucial to determining its long-term health and vitality.