Data as a weapon to fight climate change

Data as a weapon to fight climate change

Arguably, business as usual in the fashion industry is not sustainable. The industry produces 8 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions while generating 1-1.5 percent of global GDP.

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 per cent 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


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 per cent
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 fibre 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 fibre
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 fibres.


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.

Click here to learn more about the U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol.

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