US women's wear retailer Ann Inc has shored up its eco-credentials by joining the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC) and rolling out its supply chain environmental programme with global vendors.

The company, which operates the Ann Taylor and Loft chains, says the move makes it the first women's specialty retailer to join the SAC, which is working to measure - and ultimately reduce - the environmental and social impacts of apparel and footwear production around the world.

The group already includes brands, retailers and manufacturers such as Adidas, Li & Fung and Hennes & Mauritz (H&M) as well as government and non-government organisations.

Suppliers at the retailer's annual Global Vendor Conference in Hong Kong were given access to the SAC's Sustainability Index, known as the Higg Index.

The aim is to drive environmental responsibility throughout its supply chain with a priority focus on energy and water management.

The retailer, which operates 981 stores, also said it will leverage its existing supplier capacity building platform - known as AT Connect - to provide its suppliers with sustainability best practices. 

Work so far has already shown that energy efficiency provides cost savings potential across suppliers' facilities while driving improved carbon emissions, it said.

Additionally, focusing on water will reduce compliance risk and drive water management best practices as well as prepare the supply chain for future constraints in water availability.

"Our focus on energy and water using the SAC's Higg Index will allow us to set benchmarks and improvement goals while working collaboratively with our suppliers to demonstrate real improvements in performance on the ground," said Jeannette Ferran Astorga, vice president of corporate social responsibility.

Paula Zusi, executive vice president and chief supply chain officer, added: "At Ann Inc we have a strong commitment to improving the future of the communities where we work and positively impacting future generations.

"We are pleased that our suppliers share our values and are also focused on driving environmental sustainability throughout their businesses."