Apparel companies are being invited to trial the latest version of an environmental assessment tool aimed at enabling them to benchmark and measure the sustainability of their products.

The 'Apparel Tool' is the latest update to the Outdoor Industry Association's (OIA) Eco Index, and will be ready for piloting by OIA members in September. 

It uses the OIA Eco Index framework and original content (piloted in autumn 2010) as its foundation, and also incorporates Nike's Materials Assessment Tool - helping product designers and developers to begin making data-driven material sourcing choices to reduce environmental impact. 

The other major structural change from the original OIA Eco Index is the new Apparel Tool's  segmentation into three distinct content modules: facilities indicators, product indicators, and brand-level indicators. 

This layout will prevent repetition and streamline the process of using the Index. For example, each brand needs only to complete the brand-level questions once, and they will carry through to all of the products being assessed.

The Apparel Tool pilot programme will run through January 2012, and participating companies is asked to trial a minimum of two products.

Footwear and equipment suppliers are also encouraged to participate in the pilot, since the Apparel Tool will act as the template for future Index versions for these two categories, which are currently under development. The Footwear Index subgroup was launched earlier this month, and the Equipment Index subgroup has been running since April. 

The Apparel Tool is a product of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC), a group of 35 global brands, retailers, and other stakeholders formed in March this year to work towards reducing the environmental and social impacts of apparel and footwear products worldwide. 

The SAC has been working closely with members of the OIA Eco Working Group to build on the existing Eco Index content to create the new Apparel Tool, which will incorporate additional content as well as an easier-to-use interface.