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  • Writer's pictureSaara Bhatia

Google X Fashion

Updated: Jan 3, 2022

How Google’s New Open Source Platform Has Changed The Way Fashion Brands Source Their Materials

Amidst rising concerns about climate change and changing consumer behaviours that put sustainability at its forefront, Saara Bhatia and Khadra Mohammed discuss how the biggest brands in fashion face more scrutiny over their supply chain decisions.

Your favorite clothes, sneakers and more have a steep global footprint. It is estimated that the fashion industry is responsible for 10% of greenhouse gas emissions from human activity and 20% of wastewater. Wondering what is the environmental cost of a pair of jeans? One pair of jeans usually needs a kilogram of cotton which in turn needsconsumes 7,500 to 10,000 liters of water which is (essentially 10 years of water for one person according to UN estimates). This paints a deeply troubling picture of the current state of fast fashion and its effects on the environment.

However, greater awareness of environmentally friendly alternatives, rise of conscious consumerism alongside increased responsibility of ESG among companies has paved the way for change in the fashion industry. For example, brands like Stella McCartney and H&M have re-organised their supply chains in an effort to become more “sustainable”, “eco-friendly” and “climate positive.” This is not always celebrated with some activists arguing that such changes are lip service and artificial showcasing tensions in the fashion industry’s attempt to go green.

The UN has introduced a fashion charter to tackle climate change. The main aim of the charter is to reduce net greenhouse gasses of the fashion industry to zero by 2050. The charter is now supported by 125 companies and 41 supporting organizations including. The charter has been signed by multinational companies such as Nike, Adidas, H&M, and more.

The fashion industry has utilized technology to identify risks in the supply chain to tackle climate change. Fashion brands are now adopting Google's new supply chain platform — Global Impact Fibre Explorer — , to “identify the biggest risks associated with more than 20 fibre types in their supply chains, including synthetics.”

With the Global Fibre Impact Explorer, we’re seeing how powerful data can be when combined with strong partnerships and an industry committed to finding innovative solutions to fight climate change. –Ruth Porat, CFO, Alphabet and Google Textile Exchange

What is the Global Impact Fibre Explorer?

Built by Google in partnership with the WWF, it is an open-source platform that aids the world's leading fashion firms into understanding the impact their supply chain for raw materials has on the environment and even suggests how to source it more ethically andand in a more environmentally conscious way. Google’s blog describes the Global Impact Fibre Explorer (GFIE) as being “built on Google Earth Engine and uses Google Cloud computing, to assess the environmental risk of different fibers across regions as it relates to environmental factors such as air pollution, biodiversity, climate and greenhouse gasses, forestry and water use.”

For example, through the use of this tool, Stella McCartney realised that “Buyuk Menderes, a region in western Turkey that is a major producer of cotton, could potentially face additional water shortages due to climate change. Stella McCartney says this data further incentivised the company to partner with farmers in the area to transition from conventional farming, which is often pesticide assisted, to regenerative farming.”

It is becoming increasingly important for companies to focus on their ESG practices, because the benefits of doing so go beyond simply making the shareholders happy and getting good publicity. Implementing a suitable ESG strategy, like using the Global Impact Fibre Explorer, could lead to access to large pools of capital, build a stronger corporate brand and promote sustainable long-term growth benefiting companies and all its stakeholders.

More and more, consumers are insisting that they understand where their clothing is coming from. But often, the very people producing the product don’t have the information they need. And they’re desperate for it. This tool is a great answer for us at Stella McCartney, and for the broader industry, to really understand the impact of where they’re sourcing from. –Stella McCartney, Founder and Creative Director, Stella McCartney, Textile Exchange

Apart from the benefits companies like H&M, Adidas, etc. receive from implementing improvements using data from this open-source platform, such as rising share prices and enhanced brand image, improving the way these firms source their raw materials to make them more sustainable will also be a gigantic step forward in meeting the UN Goals for Net Carbon Emissions.

Google was scrutinized last year, when it was disclosed in a Greenpeace report that Google was providing oil and gas companies with custom artificial intelligence tools to help locate and extract fossil fuels. Since then, Google has promised to stop building such tools. Instead Google has decided to focus on where its’ “technology and data could have the greatest impact,” said Maria McClay, Google’s senior head of industry for luxury. Furthermore, this initiative could also help ameliorate Google’s image.

Since completing the pilot stage, for Phase Two, Google has handed the project off to the Textile Exchange, an international NGO dedicated to helping firms responsibly source raw material in the textile industry. Currently, the platform is being tested by some of the biggest names in fashion—the likes of H&M, Zara’s parent company Inditex and VF Corporation—but will be openly available to the whole industry by 2022. This will encourage more firms to be more climate conscious about the decisions they make along every step of the way.

It has become vital for multinational corporations to think beyond just their bottomline. According to Deloitte’s Survey on changing Consumer Behaviour in 2021, 32% of consumers are highly engaged with adopting a more sustainable lifestyle, and 28% of consumers have stopped buying certain products due to ethical or environmental concerns. For the modern consumer, being environmentally conscious matters! Responding to such changes in consumer behaviour, firms have started advertising when their products are made from a 100% recycled material or are locally sourced. The Global Fibre Impact Explorer will allow fashion brands to make sustainable and ethical decisions from step one of its manufacturing process.

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