This story was first published by Ensia.
In 2010, fresh out of college with a degree in economics, I began a new job as a corporate sustainability professional at a major apparel retailer. I was hopeful. The apparel industry was full of environmental problems and opportunities for major progress.
At the time, Greenpeace had launched a detox campaign directly linking textile manufacturing and water pollution, a claim confirmed by the industry’s most influential brands through their organization of Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals. The Natural Resources Defense Council was building its Clean by Design (PDF) initiative to collaborate with brands that wanted cost-effective ways to clean up factories in their supply chains. The Sustainable Apparel Coalition was gearing up to foster collaboration among companies, non-governmental organizations, government and academia with the mission of improving the social and environmental performance across the industry. And corporate sustainability departments were being built across the industry.