The importance of quantitative data21 March 2023
Measuring environmental sustainability in fashion.
How environmental sustainability is currently measured in fashion
Fashion brands are increasingly conscious of their social and environmental impacts. This awareness combined with consumer demand for sustainably made products has resulted in the proliferation of a myriad of certifications, codes of conducts, ‘sustainable’ collections and all sorts of initiatives, alliances and commitments to do better.
It’s clear how sustainability has become a prerequisite rather than a differentiator in the fashion industry. Many brands, in response to the findings on the detrimental impacts of the fashion industry, are increasingly acknowledging their share of the responsibility and actively promoting sustainable initiatives.
For these to be effective, it is fundamental for brands to carry out impact assessments looking at environmental key performance indicators (KPIs) and collecting primary, quantitative data from their supply chain. Accessing such data can facilitate strategic decision-making and guide brands towards genuine sustainability.
It is crucial for brands to be aware of social and environmental key performance indicators (KPIs) to convey quantitative information and measure their actual impacts, in order to better manage them. This type of information is essential for enterprises to properly report on their carbon footprint and yearly sustainability performance.
An effective way to achieve true sustainability in fashion is to carry out supply chain assessments and leverage the power of quantitative data to influence decision making. This means gathering numerical data which reduces uncertainties and provides a reliable and objective representation of reality. A lack of accurate, quantitative data can result in inaccurate reporting, lack of transparency, and potential backlash from stakeholders. This type of data will also prove essential for brands that will have to comply with legislation that is approaching the fashion sector.
Environmental sustainability measurements lack quantitative data
Sustainability is a complex and multi-faceted concept that’s not currently measured comprehensively or uniformly in fashion. Despite the industry’s efforts in tackling sustainability, a lack of key metrics and scarcity of quantitative data, makes it challenging to define and implement.
Current efforts have a rather narrow scope that fails to assess the impact on the entire value chain. Presently, fashion’s impact measurements are lacking the quantitative, science-based, primary data and environmental KPIs needed to identify, measure and reduce brands’ impacts.
Without an accurate, extensive assessment methodology, brands’ efforts to reduce their impacts won't meet the 1.5-degree pathway to mitigate climate change set out by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
Supply chain management through reliable, science based, quantitative data
It is critical for brands to think systematically, take responsibility for their impacts and truly invest in sustainability to drive innovation and genuine improvements in their supply chain and beyond. Through comprehensive, sustainable supply chain management (SSCM) and impact assessments based on environmental KPIs, brands can really take control of their operations, mitigate their impacts and be part of the transformation towards a more efficient and sustainable fashion.
From sustainability certifications to comprehensive impact assessments
Certifications are often touted as the solution for the fashion industry to achieve transparency and reduce its impacts, yet there’s so no certification that’s currently addressing the entirety of the fashion supply chain’s impacts. The lack of a unified, comprehensive and holistic certifying body makes it challenging to address such fragmented, globalised and multifaceted impacts that span across the globe.
Certifications are certainly useful in guiding consumers in their decision making but due to the multitude of issues within the fashion industry, the limited scope of individual certifications can be insufficient for fashion brands to address all impact areas.
To drive concrete change, sustainability needs to be universally defined and the system of sustainability certifications needs to be streamlined. Fashion brands that are serious about reducing their impacts should focus on Sustainable Supply Chain management (SSCM). This requires the involvement of suppliers, especially to decarbonize the industry given that 96% of fashions’ emissions occur across the value Chain.
In the absence of cohesive legislation, for many fashion brands, certifications and ranking systems, alongside voluntary initiatives have become the main tools they rely on to progress in their sustainability journey, assess and measure sustainability, and establish credibility amongst customers and investors. However, most of the industry's certifications and standards are failing to comprehensively address the entire lifecycle of textile production.
With no common and widespread methodology for calculating fashion product sustainability and scarcity of credible, science-based quantitative data, it’s common for fashion companies to be guilty of greenwashing.
As stakeholders demand information on the Sustainability of businesses, there has been a significant increase over the past decade in voluntary remediation and social and governance (ESG) reporting. For sustainability reports to be accurate companies are required to measure and collect data to demonstrate progress on environmental KPIS. Tracking and publicly reporting on environmental KPIs through the use of quantitative data improves return on investment (ROI), accelerates sustainability progress and enables supply chain transparency, all of which build credibility amongst stakeholders.
Primary data to tackle fashion’s supply chain impacts
For true sustainability to be achieved, companies need to have their sustainability efforts meticulously assessed and reliably measured through an array of quantitative methods. With a long and complicated life cycle, apparel production consists of many different phases such as fibre and yarn production, assembly, and transportation. Every one of these stages can have an adverse impact on the planet and consequently cause environmental repercussions through phenomena such as water degradation, climate change and the depletion of resources.
To address such complex issues, fashion brands need accurate quantitative data assessments. It is also crucial to access primary data, which is highly specific data that are directly collected from main sources, in the case of fashion brands that means gathering data on a brand’s supply chain operations. This is more relevant and pertinent to a specific brand, allowing for more precise impact assessments for a particular brand.
Secondary data is more easily accessible as it’s already existing on scientific databases, so data that is not directly collected or measured but rather sourced from a third-party. It isn’t related to a specific brand’s supply chain. This type of data provides more generic information and averages. Although important, it’s not sufficient on its own to achieve effective measurements.
Why and how to collect quantitative data
Collecting primary data is essential in assessing brands’ impacts as it provides more authentic and objective information. It allows sustainable efforts to be more focused and effective, giving companies more awareness of their impacts and control over their operations.
SBP allows fashion companies to turn operative data into sustainability metrics. Simplifying access to primary data allows companies to digitalize their supply chain, allowing them to identify hotspots and facilitate risk management. With reliable, quantitative data, decision-making is made easier.
By taking advantage of primary data gathered from fashion supply chains, brands can shift to a more competitive business model that ties economic and environmental objectives together. With a multi-metric measurement approach that takes into account environmental KPIs, brands can truly be part of the revolution and achieve genuine, supply-chain-wide sustainability.
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