How Sustainable Is Carhartt? All You Need to Know

How Sustainable Is Carhartt? All You Need to Know

By
Dennis Kamprad

Read Time:15 Minutes

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Active people like you are taking a serious look at your athletic wear since the apparel industry contributes 10% of global emissions and is the second biggest polluter of our environment. Carhartt is an outdoor brand that became popular for their rugged, long-lasting workwear that is now seen as trendy sports gear and everyday clothing. So, we had to ask: “How sustainable is Carhartt?”

Before we can consider Carhartt a sustainable brand, they have work to do in addressing their manufacturing and materials use—and being transparent about each. The durability of their products, along with their resale and reconditioning programs, are good steps they’ve taken to reduce their impact.

Okay, we’ve already given you the overall summary of Carhartt’s sustainability. But there’s more to it than that. Let’s have a look at the whole life-cycle of their products, from production to usage to end-of-life. We’ll also cover Carhartt‘s involvement in sustainability-promoting organizations. But let’s get started with the big picture first.

Here’s How Sustainable Carhartt Is

Well known for making sturdy workwear, Carhartt was originally marketed mostly to railroad workers. 

Sustainable: The ability to be maintained at a certain rate or level | Avoidance of the depletion of natural resources in order to maintain an ecological balance”

Oxford Dictionary

To know if Carhartt really is sustainable, we need to look at their manufacturing practices and determine if they are effectively reducing their impact on the planet. To do that, we need to look at:

the information they share,

data they report to third parties for external review,

their ratings and reviews, and 

what sustainable organizations they belong to.

And to understand the sustainability of Carhartt, we must assess their products’ life-cycle and each stage’s sustainability. This life-cycle assessment (LCA) is a method to evaluate the environmental impacts of products and materials. Over the years, companies have strategically used LCA to research and create more sustainable products. So, let’s have a look at the LCA of Carhartt!

The product life-cycle stagesEach stage’s sustainability
ProductionMaterials: They don’t disclose much about what they use, and they also don’t show up as being certified for use of organic or recycled materials.
Manufacturing: There’s no proof that they’re working to reduce the impact of manufacturing on the environment.
Packaging: They’ve started working on reducing their packaging and using recycled materials.
UsageLifespan: They make durable products that last a long time and are passed down through generations.
Quality reviews: Customers love the quality of their products. Most bad reviews are about their service and shipping.
End-of-lifeMaterials: They don’t disclose much about what they use, and they also don’t show up as being certified for the use of organic or recycled materials.
Manufacturing: There’s no proof that they’re working to reduce the impact of manufacturing on the environment.
Packaging: They’ve started working on reducing their packaging and using recycled materials.

How Sustainable Is the Production of Carhartt Products

To determine if Carhartt’s products are sustainable, we have to look at how they are made. Are factory emissions monitored and are actions being taken to reduce them? Does Carhartt keep material waste at a minimum? Do they use non-toxic chemicals that don’t damage the environment? These are all things we need to know to determine if Carhartt is sustainable.

Carhartt doesn’t rank well in the area of transparency. When evaluated, they ranked in the lowest percentile for their sustainability efforts, only getting good marks for their policies. They need to work on proving to us that they follow through on those policies.

Carhartt didn’t participate in the 2023 Fashion Transparency Index questionnaire done by Fashion Revolution. The index, which evaluated 250 brands, gave Carhartt an overall rating of 7%. This means the company has sustainability guidelines for employees and suppliers but doesn’t go beyond that. 

  • The index gave them 21–30% for policies and commitment to sustainability, the highest score they pulled off.
  • They aren’t transparent about supply chain processes or manufacturing details. 

Having policies is only the first step toward sustainability. A company needs to ensure their manufacturing is done responsibly and give us verifiable third-party reporting to prove it. We don’t get this kind of transparency from Carhartt.

How Sustainable Are the Materials That Carhartt Uses for Their Products

Most athletic and outdoor wear contains cotton, polyester, vinyl, rubber, and plastic. Cotton is the only one of these materials that doesn’t come from fossil fuels. Carhartt uses a lot of cotton but it doesn’t look like they responsibly source it.

There’s no evidence that Carhartt is responsibly sourcing their materials. They don’t use recycled content and their natural materials, like cotton, which they use a lot of, are not organically sourced.

  • What types of materials does Carhartt use for their products? Carhartt product listings only disclose some of the content being used. They don’t give us a full breakdown of materials. They use a lot of cotton, and the synthetics they list are mostly polyester, nylon, and spandex, but they don’t use recycled content for these. 
  • Are the materials used by Carhartt virgin (new) or non-virgin (recycled)? They don’t appear to be part of any third-party organizations that would verify the responsible sourcing of their materials. As well, we’ve seen very little mention of recycled content in use on Carhartt product descriptions.
  • Is Carhartt part of any organizations to “prove” their sustainability? While Carhartt’s Corporate Responsibility page says they have third-party oversight at their factories and suppliers, they don’t tell us who performs this oversight. We didn’t find them listed with organizations that do oversight, like B-Corp, or Bluesign®. And they aren’t listed in the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) database, which would prove they’re organically sourcing natural materials. 

To sum up, there’s no proof that Carhartt is using responsibly sourced materials or acting sustainably, and they don’t talk about this on their website. 

How Sustainable Are the Manufacturing Processes of Carhartt

In the apparel industry, manufacturing is the biggest cause of climate change inducing waste and emissions. From wasted fabric on the cutting floor to the chemicals used on materials and the carbon output from operations—these all have a huge impact on our environment.

Providing a global factory map is a step in the right direction, but Carhartt needs to do more to tell us about their production and what they’re doing to reduce waste, emissions, and chemical and water use.

  • What does Carhartt do to reduce their CO2 emissions? There is no evidence the company is taking action to reduce their CO2 emissions. In fact, they have not even said they purchase carbon offsets, which most apparel companies do these days.
  • What does Carhartt do to reduce their chemical usage? We didn’t find evidence that they’re working to reduce the use of chemicals in their manufacturing. They tell us they comply with the Restricted Substance List and specifications put out by the American Apparel and Footwear Association, and that they require their suppliers to also do this. Much of their apparel carries the OEKO-TEX® Standard 100 label, which means materials in the garment have been tested for harmful chemicals and may be better than levels allowed by law. 

While Carhartt says they require their factories and suppliers to be ethical and responsible as well as use third-party auditing, there is no proof of this. They have policies like a Supplier Handbook and a Code of Conduct, but there’s no evidence that these are enforced.

How Sustainable Is the Packaging Used for Carhartt Products

Nearly half of all plastics made are for product packaging. While some packaging is necessary or is required by law, some of it isn’t needed. Since plastics are made with fossil fuels, can’t be easily recycled, and take hundreds of years to break down, they are a huge contributor to the carbon footprint and waste caused by product manufacturing.

In the past few years, Carhartt has made efforts to reduce how much packaging they’re using and substitute recycled materials for it. It’s a start, but they’ve got more work to do in this area. 

  • How much packaging do they use? Carhartt tells us that, in 2021, they started to focus on reducing packaging. Since then…
    • the amount of packaging they use has gone down by 13% and,
    • they’re using 43% less paper, overall.
  • How sustainable is their packaging? Their Sustainability page tells us they’re now using primarily 100% recycled materials for their mailers, but they don’t say anything about using recycled content for their packaging.

While their declarations that they’re using recycled materials and making efforts to reduce packaging sound like a step in the right direction, they’ve got a lot more work to do. Furthermore, we don’t find them using any outside source to verify the progress they’ve made so far.

How Sustainable Is the Usage of Carhartt Products

Having sustainable products also means making them durable so that they last. It is estimated that 64% of garments made end up in landfills within a year after purchase. As such, it’s important to know if Carhartt makes their products to last so that people keep using them for a long time.

There is no doubt Carhartt products are durable and made to last. They’ve been making tough outdoor workwear since the company started over 100 years ago, which is why they’ve grown in popularity and become everyday streetwear.

What Is the Lifespan of Carhartt’s Products

The lifespan of a product is the period of time from when a product leaves the manufacturer to the moment it becomes obsolete, or cannot be used anymore and is thrown out.

One good thing Carhartt does for the planet is make sure their gear stays in play. Their Reworked program is a resale opportunity for customers to buy their used apparel and keep it out of landfills.

  • Are Carhartt’s products designed to last? The Carhartt brand grew in popularity because they make durable, long-lasting apparel. In fact, they have a Built to Last Commitment that promises if you aren’t happy with the quality of their products, they will repair, replace, or give you store credit. 
  • Can Carhartt’s products be considered fast fashion? No, we would never consider Carhartt fast fashion. Their apparel is known to be good quality and the company does a lot to make sure it stays in use for a long time. They make the type of products that fast fashion tries to copy.

Carhartt apparel is known for being long-lasting and durable. There’s almost a reverence for their gear, and people proudly say that it’s passed down in families from one generation to the next.

How Is the Quality of Carhartt’s Products Rated

When a product is rated as being high-quality, it reflects on its durability and lifespan potential. If it is made poorly or from inferior materials, it is not likely to last or be rated very well by consumers.

A good thing about Carhartt is the durability of their products. While they may get dinged in reviews for poor service and shipping, very few customers complain about the quality of their apparel.

Overall, it appears the true selling point of Carhartt gear is their high quality and long-lasting products.

How Sustainable Is the End-of-Life of Carhartt Products

While a big environmental impact from the apparel industry is the manufacturing, the mounting pile of clothes that end up in landfills is equally impactful. So, it’s important for apparel companies to make their products reusable or recyclable, and that they support this reuse so that garments don’t end up in landfills.

Though they can’t be recycled, Carhartt products are durable and last long so they’re less impactful than many other brands of outerwear. Many customers say they keep their gear in the family for generations because it’s good quality that lasts. 

How Circular Are Carhartt’s Products

Circularity means materials are reused so they don’t end up in landfills. As such, apparel is only circular if it can be taken apart and the materials recycled, which isn’t easy if they’re synthetics, like polyester, or treated, like with waterproofing. 

Carhartt products aren’t made to be recycled, so they can’t be called circular. But the company works to keep their gear in play longer with repair and reuse programs.

Circular economy: A circular economy within the textiles industry refers to the practice of clothes and fibers continually being recycled, to re-enter the economy as much as possible rather than ending up as waste. | A circular textiles economy is in response to the current linear model of the fashion industry, in which raw materials are extracted, manufactured into commercial goods, and then bought, used, and eventually discarded by consumers.”

Wikipedia

We didn’t find anything that tells us that Carhartt products are made to be recycled. Usually, only natural fibers and untreated materials can be taken apart and recycled into new apparel. Their use of polyester blends and waterproofing means this isn’t likely, and so we can’t call their products circular.

So, while Carhartt gear isn’t made to be recycled, it is made well, which means it’s not disposed of as quickly as other outerwear.

Are Carhartt’s Products Made for Recycling

Natural fibers, like cotton, are usually the easiest to recycle as they can be taken apart and reused as thread or yarn to make more material. Synthetics, like polyester, on the other hand, aren’t easy to take apart and recycle. So, the types of materials Carhartt’s products are made from make a difference as to how easily they can be recycled.

There’s no evidence that Carhartt products are recyclable or that the company is working to make them that way. But they do offer ways to recondition and trade in their gear so it stays out of landfills longer.

Though we can’t call their products circular because they can’t be recycled, making long-lasting apparel is something Carhartt is good at. This keeps their gear out of landfills longer than most. They also keep them lasting longer with a reuse program called Carhartt Reworked, where you can buy or trade in used Carhartt apparel.

The more durable a garment is, the more likely it will be resold or reconditioned. Carhartt gear is known for being super durable, and thus it shows up a lot in resale stores, like the online resale offerings we found on Sustainable Jungle.

Promoting the reuse of their apparel and making durable products that last a long time is one way Carhartt supports sustainability.

Will Carhartt’s Products Go to Waste at Their End-of-Life

No matter how durable a product is, it will one day no longer be useful. When it comes down to apparel, it is becoming critical to avoid having it end up in landfills, which reports say is where nearly 80% of our clothing eventually goes, meaning that only about 20% ever gets recycled.

Since Carhartt doesn’t appear to be using materials that can be recycled, their apparel will end up in landfills when it reaches its end of life. Fortunately, it takes a long time for that to happen because of the durability of their products.

Since their gear tends to last a long time, they recognize that it may sometimes need to be repaired. On their Carhartt Built to Last Commitment page, there’s a form you can fill out to ship a product back to them for repair. Alternatively, you can buy one of their DIY repair kits.

It doesn’t look like Carhartt has any plans to address what happens to their apparel when it can’t be worn anymore. So, it’s good that their garments are less likely to land in the trash soon after purchase, like a lot of apparel these days.

Is Carhartt Involved in Any Charities Promoting Sustainability

Like many outdoor apparel companies, Carhartt supports organizations working to improve natural spaces and the lives of workers. Their Inclusion, Sustainability, and Community page says they support…

While contributions to organizations like these are good, we would like to see more environmental support from the company, like membership in One Percent for The Planet, where companies give one percent of their gross sales to environmental programs.

Here’s How Sustainable Carhartt Says They Are

Carhartt has a reputation for making durable outerwear for hard-working people, and that’s what they market. So, Carhartt doesn’t brand themselves as sustainable, which is good, because if they did, we would consider them to be greenwashing.

What Is the Sustainability Strategy of Carhartt

Their website navigation has a link to their Corporate Responsibility page, but this doesn’t link to their Sustainability page, which we had to dig for, and where we learned about their participation in the Higg Brand & Retail Module. In fact, they don’t promote sustainability much at all. So, as far as we can tell, they don’t have a sustainability strategy. Hopefully, we’ll see that change in the future.

What Sustainability Marketing Messages Does Carhartt Share

Carhartt doesn’t market themselves as a sustainable brand. They don’t push sustainable features under their product descriptions, and they don’t try to call their company sustainable just because they make long-lasting products, which some companies do. 

Greenwashing: behavior or activities that make people believe that a company is doing more to protect the environment than it really is”

Cambridge Dictionary

Based on what little Carhartt says about their sustainability efforts, it sounds like they’re just getting started. They make durable products and promote repair and long-lasting use, but they don’t really say that makes them sustainable, which is good because we don’t see evidence that they are. 

How Does Carhartt Compare to Their Competitors

There are a number of sports and workwear brands moving forward with sustainable practices and proving it with certifications and oversight. Unfortunately, we can’t say that Carhartt is one of those. The one thing that does make them more sustainable than many other brands is how long their products last.

How Can You Buy More Sustainable Sports Products

As a consumer, you’d want to verify what the company says on their website about their sustainable practices. Yet, you have to watch out for the companies that use marketing buzzwords to sound good without actually standing behind those claims.

Here are some organizations that certify companies as sustainable and provide ways to search for them:

With all these resources and a few minutes of your time, you can quickly check how sustainable a company might be before your next purchase.

Final Thoughts

It looks like Carhartt is trying to get their sustainable act together, but they’ve got a long way to go. So, we’re glad they at least don’t pretend to be a sustainable brand. We would really like to see them working to reduce the impact of their manufacturing and materials, but there’s not a lot of evidence for this yet. Their efforts to support extended use and resale of their products is a step in the right direction, but it would feel more like they’re making an effort if they had a sustainability strategy. 

Stay impactful,

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