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Google’s new pilot aims to measure environmental impact of fashion industry 

The UN’s Fashion Industry Charter has committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the fashion industry by 30% by 2030. In response, Google Cloud has announced a new pilot, in close collaboration with Stella McCartney, aimed to empower fashion brands with greater insight on the impact of their supply chains.

Now more than ever, the fashion industry is heeding the call to sustainability. Its environmental impact is significant and growing — among other statistics, the fashion industry accounts for 20% of wastewater and 10% of carbon emissions globally. 

Much of this impact occurs at the raw materials stage in the production process, where brands have little to no visibility.

This is an industry wide problem, where supply chains are highly fragmented and with little transparency.

Many organisations and brands have been trailblazers in an effort to collect and surface data that can lead to better sourcing decisions, but gaps in the data continue to persist due to its complexity and global nature.

After working with Current Global, an innovation consultancy that empowers fashion brands to reach their sustainability goals through the use of relevant technologies, it was determined that Google could help be part of the solution through the use of cloud-based tools for data collection and analysis.

At the Copenhagen Fashion Summit, one of the fashion industry’s key sustainability events, an experiment to do exactly that was announced.

To bring the experiment to life, Google will be collaborating closely with Stella McCartney.

This brand has been a pioneer in leading the fashion industry towards sustainability, helping to launch the UN Fashion Industry Charter for climate change, and recently introducing Stella McCartney Cares Green, one of the arms of the Stella McCartney Foundation, to further promote sustainability and environmental protection.

By working together through this pilot project, it is hoped that data can be translated into meaningful insights so the industry can take action.

“At Stella McCartney we have been continuously focusing on looking at responsible and sustainable ways to conduct ourselves in fashion, it is at the heart of what we do. We are trying our best – we aren’t perfect, but we are opening a conversation that hasn’t really been had in the history of fashion,” said Stella McCartney.

To start, a tool will be built that uses data analytics and machine learning on Google Cloud to give brands a more comprehensive view into their supply chain, particularly at the level of raw material production, referred to in the industry as Tier 4 of the supply chain.

Initially cotton and viscose will be examined, each chosen due to the scale of their production, data availability and impact considerations.

Cotton accounts for 25% of all fibres used by the fashion industry, with a notable impact on water and pesticide use.

Viscose production is smaller but growing in demand, and has links to the destruction of forests —some endangered — which are critical in mitigating carbon emissions.

This pilot will enable the effectiveness of the tool to be tested on these different raw materials, building out the possibilities for expansion into a wider variety of key textiles in the market down the line.

Included will be data sources that allow companies to better measure the impact of their raw materials, relevant to key environmental factors such as air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, land use and water scarcity.

The goal is not only to be able to determine the impact of producing these raw materials, but also compare the impacts of these in different regions where they are produced.

This is the first phase of the experiment and Google is actively working with fashion brands, experts, NGOs and industry bodies with the ambition of creating an open industry-wide tool, and plans to continue driving collaboration with other key players — large and small.

It is hoped that this experiment will give fashion brands greater visibility of impact within their supply chain and actionable insights to make better raw material sourcing decisions with sustainability in mind.  

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