Plans by six apparel and footwear brands and retailers to eliminate the discharge of hazardous chemicals from their supply chains by 2020 have been widely praised by a group of stakeholders - but are aiming for a challenging deadline and should have been expanded to include suppliers, they say.

The feedback on the joint roadmap to zero toxic discharge outlined by Adidas Group, C&A, H&M, Li Ning, Nike Inc and Puma in November last year was requested by the firms to help strengthen their goal.

SustainAbility Inc canvassed the views of academics, chemical companies, environmental non-governmental organisations (NGOs), apparel brands and regulatory agencies, and found "near unanimous praise" for the commitment.

But the stakeholders also believe that the six brands alone won't be sufficient to achieve zero discharge.

Indeed, many felt the brands should have gone further, particularly with suppliers, whose engagement is key to realising the goal. Not only are they likely to face additional costs from the initiative, but if they do make investments, will they be rewarded with preferred status or longer-term relationships?  

Many also consider the timeline is unrealistic - and that eight years is not enough to change buyer and supplier practices, develop suitable chemical alternatives, impose and/or change regulatory structures.

They also noted that the industry's business model - which outsources manufacturing to a large, fragmented and distant supplier base - may need to undergo a fundamental shift if zero discharge is to be achieved.

Other comments noted that robust regulatory frameworks and enforcement are critical to the effort, especially in regions like Asia. And a number of questions were raised on principles and definitions, including the practicality of carrying out measurements across the thousands of facilities in the brands' supply chains.

The brands should also consider expanding the scope of their pilot projects to include "more challenging" scenarios, such as suppliers that do not have wet processes in house but rather contract out those processes.

Supplier disclosure is set to be another vexing issue for the brands, especially the prospects of facility-by-facility disclosure, a comprehensive list of chemicals used in textile manufacturing, and convincing chemical companies to disclose their formulations.

There will also need to be investment in "infrastructure" on the ground in manufacturing countries, including pollution control technology, testing labs, and supplier knowledge.

The stakeholders also want to see a positive vision from the brands as to what the apparel and footwear manufacturing industry will look like in 2020 as a result of this effort. Will the supply chain be shorter and less fragmented? Will full life cycle costs be considered? And what are the sustainability benefits of getting to zero?