Apparel and footwear companies are being invited to pilot-test a new environmental assessment tool aimed at enabling them to benchmark and measure the footprint of their products.

The Eco Index has taken three years to be developed by the Outdoor Industry Association Eco Working Group, a volunteer industry committee of more than 100 outdoor companies.

It includes guidelines, performance indicators, footprint metrics and a comparative scoring system against a six-stage life cycle approach.

More than 80 companies have now signed up to test the new index in its Beta Phase 1 form, with the aim of providing feedback before its formal launch, scheduled for early 2011.

“The Eco Index was designed to be applicable to all apparel, footwear and gear products, and to be used within companies of all sizes,” said Beth Jensen, corporate responsibility manager for OIA.

“We are looking to the pilot programme for critical feedback on the success of this approach.”

The review period will also include third-party reviews by a group of environmental organisations, investors and academics.