Some of the world's leading brands and retailers have teamed up to release a joint 'roadmap' outlining the steps they intend to take to achieve the goal of zero discharge of hazardous chemicals in their supply chains by 2020.

Adidas Group, C&A, H&M, Li Ning, Nike Inc and Puma say the plan, unveiled this week, sets a new standard of environmental performance for the global apparel and footwear industry. And they are calling on other firms in the global apparel and footwear industry to join the initiative.

In particular, it includes specific commitments and timelines to realise their goal, including conducting pilot projects at major, vertically integrated and materials suppliers between 2011 and 2013 to better understand scope of use and discharge of hazardous chemicals.

They also intend to verify that nine classes of hazardous or persistent chemicals are not currently used, and will initiate an inventory of all chemicals used in apparel manufacturing by the end of 2012.

Other steps include disclosing the results of all pilots and studies undertaken as part of this commitment, and reporting regularly and publicly on their progress, quarterly in 2012 and annually from 2013 to 2020.

The firms see the joint roadmap as a "living" document, and say it will continue to be refined in response to the initial pilots and research carried out, as well as collaboration with other brands and stakeholders. They also note it will be reviewed and updated at least annually.

One of their first steps has been to ask consultancy SustainAbility to solicit feedback from a key group of stakeholders over the next six weeks. In addition, they are also accepting comments from the public until 31 December and, based on this feedback, will consider refining the roadmap in 2012.

"Tackling and achieving the goal of zero discharge is a complex challenge - one that our brand collaboration cannot solve alone," the firms said in a joint statement.

"Our vision is that the roadmap serves as a benchmark and that many more brands join us in our efforts. Ultimately, we want and need a broad array of participants to partner with us in this endeavour: chemical suppliers, academics, NGOs, textile experts, entrepreneurs, policy makers and others.

"We understand that we are setting out to change the way apparel and footwear is manufactured, globally, and are thus casting our net wide for the best ideas and solutions."