Consumers in the fashion industry are showing a growing preference for sustainable products. Additionally, regulators are introducing new rules and laws that will force the apparel and footwear industries to reduce the environmental impact of their production methods. Sustainability has become a pivotal issue for the apparel and footwear sectors for quite some time. With a deeper understanding of the environmental footprint of the fashion industry, many businesses are now looking to accelerate sustainability efforts in their manufacturing operations.
Decarbonization levers in the fashion supply chain¹
In this article, we will discuss how sustainable fashion brands can streamline their supply chain systems, augment existing traceability, or supply chain data collection tools like Higg FEM, and collaborate with supply chain partners to drive comprehensive supplier engagement and accelerate their decarbonization efforts.
This process involves four key steps:
1. End-to-end mapping of the entire supply chain
The first stage involves end-to-end mapping of the entire supply chain from Tier-1, Tier-2, and Tier-3 manufacturing facilities to Tier-4 farm-level producers. The fashion supply chain is often complex where fibers are sourced from different countries, spun into yarns in a facility, knitted or weaved into fabric in another geography, and finally assembled into a garment in a location closer to the brand or a retailer. Brands and retailers need to build traceability in their supply chain to enable this end-to-end mapping and achieve assurance that their fibers, fabrics, or garments are sourced from ethical suppliers.
Brands can leverage any 3rd party traceability solution providers like Trustrace, Retraced, and ID Factory, or build this database manually to achieve this goal. The Carbon Trail platform provides seamless integration with any of these traceability solution providers to map your end-to-end supply chain with the flexibility to edit or add new suppliers as you expand your sourcing network. Further, Carbon Trail’s platform integrates with industry-specific supply chain mapping platforms like Open Supply Hub to capture additional information about your suppliers and their facilities.
Carbon Trail: Supply chain mapping illustration of a Fashion Brand
2. Automated supplier data collection and engagement
The Higg Facility Environmental Module (FEM) was launched to streamline data exchange between fashion supply chain partners in 2012 by SAC, a non-profit group founded by fashion brands, retailers, manufacturers, and other stakeholders committed to reducing the environmental and social impacts of apparel and footwear products worldwide. Over the last decade, Higg FEM has become a widely adopted assessment tool, with 13,000+ facilities completing a self-assessment every year and 2,500+ of these facilities getting their results verified by an independent third-party organization following SAC Higg verification protocols.
Despite wide adoption and SAC’s blessings, Higg FEM has failed to become the one-stop platform for collecting facility data across all brands and retailers, resulting in an explosion of brand-specific supplier data collection templates of varying formats. We have already covered the major limitations of the Higg FEM tool and how brands can still work around these limitations and accurately measure their Scope 3 and product-specific emissions.
Carbon Trail’s supplier engagement platform is built to address these emerging industry needs, allowing brands and retailers to automate and augment their facility data collection efforts. For example: If a brand has only 40% coverage of its supply chain with Higg FEM, it can use Carbon Trail’s platform to augment supplier data collection from the remaining 60% of the supply chain.
Carbon Trail: Supplier engagement and tracking dashboard
Unlike Higg FEM, Carbon Trail’s supplier engagement platform is automated, allowing manufacturers to just upload copies of their electricity and fuel bills to exchange data with the brands. Carbon Trail’s AI/ML algorithms detect anomalies in the supplier-facility data to catch errors while uploading the bill information, making third-party audits redundant. Further, brands can customize the data collected in the survey and set up recurring surveys on a schedule they prefer.
Carbon Trail’s platform automatically extracts, validates, and processes the facility data to create facility-specific emission factors that account for changes in energy mix, energy efficiency, and other decarbonization efforts. Further, Carbon Trail’s platform can securely exchange this information with brands and retailers for their product LCAs and Scope 3 carbon accounting.
3. Enable supplier performance review and collaboration for decarbonization
Fashion supply chain decarbonization requires brands to build deeper supplier engagement and partnerships on innovation projects with suppliers from Tier-1 and beyond. To achieve this goal, brands need to set up routine reviews & screening of suppliers and provide inputs to accelerate their sustainability efforts.
Carbon Trail’s comprehensive database of facility-specific emission factors allows brands to not only compare the supplier’s performance year on year but also against the peers and industry standards. This allows brands to identify and recommend initiatives such as low-energy intensive dyeing processes, renewable energy mix, machinery efficiency etc., to their suppliers to implement and reduce overall emissions.
Brands can simulate the impact of these decarbonization initiatives in their supply chain to calculate the ROI to finance and implement those in collaboration with their suppliers.
Carbon Trail: Scenario analysis and simulation of decarbonization initiatives
4. Scale sourcing of sustainable raw materials
Fibers and raw materials contribute to ~38% of GHG emissions in the fashion supply chain². The overall impact of the industry for fibers and raw materials increased by 10 million tonnes of CO2e from 2021 to 2022. This is a 3% annual increase, in line with a business-as-usual scenario.
To achieve the ambitious goal of a 45% reduction in GHG emissions from fibers and raw materials by 2030, the fashion industry will require a large shift towards eco-friendly and fair-trade raw materials, such as organic natural fibers (including organic cotton) and low-impact viscose fibers.
Textile Exchange: Fiber and material GHG emissions forecast modelling³
Natural fibers: These plant-based materials, including cotton, hemp, linen, and bamboo, are sustainable alternatives to synthetic fabrics derived from petroleum and require less chemical-intensive treatment procedures. Example: GOTS-certified organic cotton can be 50% less emissions-intensive than conventional cotton due to the limited use of pesticides and fertilizers.
Recycled polyester (rPET): Made from recycled plastic bottles, rPET can be 40% less emissions-intensive than regular polyester because of material recycling and closed-loop production methods.
Low-Impact Viscose fibers: New-age man-made fibers such as Lenzingᵀᴹ Tencel are a branded form of rayon created by dissolving wood pulp and produce half of the emissions of conventional fibers. This synthetic material is typically used as an alternative to nylon and lycra in activewear (which is mostly derived from crude oil).
Carbon Trail’s platform leverages environmental impact data from EU-recommended data sources, industry non-profits like Textile Exchange, and research papers to help the fashion industry assess and compare the impact of raw materials for sourcing.
Sustainable fashion brands and retailers can use Carbon Trail’s interactive tool to simulate the environmental impact of any fiber or fabric in a standardized way that allows product designers and sustainability teams to understand the benefits and trade-offs of their fiber and raw material choices.