The Evolution of The ZDHC Programme

How can we do better? How can we eliminate the discharge of hazardous chemicals from the production of clothing and footwear? What is our role in creating a safer, more sustainable world? 

These were the questions that led to the formation of ZDHC’s Roadmap to Zero Programme in 2011 and the newly established ZDHC Foundation, based in Amsterdam, Netherlands, that I’m proud to lead as executive director.

The answers to these questions, however, are not simple and to achieve our ambitious goal of zero discharge, our approach must be collaborative, reflective and transparent.

Having recently established a Board of Directors, and a small key team that comprise the ZDHC Foundation, it is time to move the group from tool development to implementation, by engaging with all relevant stakeholders.

As we learn and make new discoveries, we welcome new partners throughout our value chain to join this exciting movement involving over 20 leading brands, to work with us towards a safer, more sustainable world.

As a first commitment, ZDHC published its initial roadmap in 2011. Based on lessons learned, it was updated to focus on four key areas: Manufacturing Restricted Substances List (MRSL) & Conformity Guidance, Research, Audit Protocol and Wastewater quality.  

We believe these are vital for effecting change – not only by creating aligned guidance and tools, but through collaborative implementation on the ground.

The ZDHC Programme provides information on safer alternatives; highlights and addresses gaps in research; offers training and guidance, and helps to align industry standards. However, it is up to the collaborative effort of the whole supply chain to bring ZDHC to life.

Participants at ZDHC’s Annual Meeting in November, 2015


At the opening address of our autumn meeting, this November, Nate Sponsler, chair of ZDHC’s Board of Directors, highlighted our challenge:

“It’s one thing to have a standard on a piece of paper; it’s another to have 20 different brands implementing it. Our goal is to demystify some of the complexity around chemicals management, and drive new standards forward.”

Collaboration is key to the success of ZDHC, and so we were delighted to have representatives, at our meeting, from government, the nonprofit sector, academia, chemical manufacturers, material suppliers and leading brands. They worked together to ask critical questions to pave the way forward.

Nate said: “In the past, we worked in silos within our brands, and this is our effort to come together and work more effectively towards the elimination of hazardous chemicals."

"ZDHC is about collaborative implementation – speaking to the supply chain with a common voice.”

And we are not the only ones asking tough questions to drive change forward; we are proud to be working alongside, among others, the Outdoor Industry Association and the Sustainable Apparel Coalition towards this goal.