Apparel companies who want to operate environmentally sustainable businesses should cut excess manufacturing by balancing supply with demand, and learn from their mistakes, according to new guidelines.

The advice comes from The University of Delaware's Sustainable Apparel Initiative (UDSAI), which has developed a set of policies to help define what apparel businesses need to do to be considered 'sustainable.'

Other recommendations include making sure that everyone involved in apparel production and consumption is safe from harm, and setting measurable goals to help suppliers define their environmental objectives.

The policy guide, 'Creating a More Environmentally Sustainable Apparel Business: Policies for Apparel Brands and Retailers,' was produced in collaboration with sportswear firms Nike and Under Armour, as well as the American Apparel and Footwear Association.

"Sustainability is the 'buzz' throughout all industries.  The problem is there is no clear definition of what this means," said Rick Horwitch of Bureau Veritas, Consumer Products Services, which also contributed to the research. 

Some of UDSAI's recommendations, as detailed in the guide, include:
• Eliminate waste in all points of the supply chain.
• Eliminate excess product manufacturing by balancing supply to demand.
• Develop and implement advertising and marketing strategies that avoid greenwashing - that is, unspecific and unsupported claims about a product's environmental impact.
• Consider and implement end-of-life strategies (recycle, renew, or reuse) when choosing materials, designing, and producing apparel.

"The apparel industry is predicated on change and planned obsolescence, which often results in overconsumption and waste throughout the value chain," said Huantian Cao, associate professor of fashion and apparel studies and co-director of UDSAI.

"UDSAI attempts to provide some simple guidelines that, when followed, will result in a more sustainable company."