Data as a weapon in the fashion industry’s fight against climate change

Data as a weapon in the fashion industry’s fight against climate change

Fashion, retail and textile players widely recognise the need to disrupt the status quo. In a recent study by the Economist Intelligence Unit and the U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol, 60 percent of executives picked sustainability as a top strategic priority for their organisation.

Arguably,
business as usual in the fashion industry is not sustainable. The industry produces
8 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions while generating 1-1.5 per cent
of global GDP. Were the fashion industry to continue along this path, it would
consume more than a quarter of the total carbon budget that is necessary to
limit climate change to 2 degrees Celsius (or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) by 2050.

Fashion,
retail and textile players widely recognise the need to disrupt the status quo.
In a recent study by the Economist Intelligence Unit and the U.S. Cotton Trust
Protocol, 60 percent of executives picked sustainability as a top strategic
priority for their organisation. “Sustainability is of great importance to the
apparel industry and critical for our long-term success,” said Tara Luckman,
the CEO of Flourish CSR and advisor to the U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol. “We
recognise that for the industry, as a whole, achieving sustainability can be a
process and that change will not be immediate.”

The
research dives into the environmental programmes and sustainability hurdles in
the industry through a survey of 150 insiders and in-depth interviews with 11
executives from leading brands including H&M, Puma, Zalando, Adidas and VF
Corporation, which owns The North Face, Timberland and Vans.

The
most common measure that executives are taking is to better understand the
nature of their supply chains. The most popular steps include developing a
sustainability strategy with measurable targets, which 58 per cent of
respondents are doing, and collecting data from across the supply chain to
track sustainability performance, which 53 per cent are employing. But
sustainability efforts have been challenging due to a lack of a shared systems
of measurement to track progress.

In
the drive to be more sustainable, the availability, quality and comparability
of data has become an obstacle. Without complete visibility over every stage of
the supply chain—many of which cross continents, cultures and codes of ethics—it
is impossible to measure the sustainability of a garment.

Brands
with the most success implementing their sustainability agenda all reported a
common trait: they have spent time and money understanding the environmental
impact of their supply chain. Many of the firms that made the earliest commitments
to sustainability, such as H&M and Nike, were forced to do their own data
collection, as no third-party efforts were available. Interviewees said that
not only do brands need to ramp up data collection efforts, but they also require
a set of standard methodologies for collecting data.

“A
shared sustainability standard should in theory guide the industry to an
aligned approach for collecting supply chain data,” said Dr Gary Adams, the
President of the U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol. “However, it can be incredibly
challenging to obtain the correct figures from suppliers. It can feel like
every organisation is using different methodologies, different tools and that
makes it hard to compare results and determine what we can achieve, but that’s
a problem we’re trying to solve with the Trust Protocol.”

Despite
facing difficulties, respondents were broadly optimistic that the industry is
getting closer to aligning on a consistent way to measure the sustainability of
their supply chain based on the attitudes of younger shoppers and the
introduction of sustainability legislation. Seventy-three percent of
respondents said global standards and certifications are good starting points
toward sustainability.
 

The
U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol is a new system for more sustainably grown cotton,
which fills the farm-level data gaps that brands and retailers have struggled
to access in their efforts to be more sustainable. In joining the U.S. Cotton
Trust Protocol, members can prove, measure and verify that the cotton fiber
element of their supply chain is more sustainably grown with lower
environmental and social risk.

The
Trust Protocol employs a mass balance record keeping and audit system. At the
gin, a unique credit for each kilogram of cotton ginned is issued. When the
cotton is consumed by a brand or retailer, the credits are transferred along
with the cotton to its new owner. Importantly, each credit is tied to a bale’s
permanent bale identification (PBI) number, enabling full transparency
throughout the supply chain.

Through
quantifiable and verifiable goals and measurement, the Trust Protocol can drive
continuous improvement in sustainable cotton production in six key
sustainability metrics: land use, soil carbon, water management, soil loss,
greenhouse gas emissions and energy efficiency. Brands and retailers can use
these data points to show progress against their committed pledges and goals.
Enrolling in the Trust Protocol can help brands and retailers receive the data
they need to ensure that the cotton fiber element of their supply chain is
sustainably grown.

The
system gives evidence to the sustainability credentials that are proven via
Field to Market: The Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture, measured via the
Field Calculator and verified with Control Union Certifications. The Trust
Protocol is aligned with existing sustainability programs including the U.N.
Sustainable Development Goals and is included on Textile Exchange’s list of
preferred fibers.
 

New
sustainability systems including The U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol can help the
global apparel industry continuously improve its sustainability, better
understand the elements of its worldwide supply chain, and lessen its impact on
the planet through better data.

visit https://trustuscotton.org  to
learn more about the U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol.

 

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