Fashion, as an industry, is among the world’s biggest polluters. Now one of tech’s biggest companies wants to help clean it up.
The company wants to build cloud tools that give fashion brands a better view into their supply chains — particularly for raw materials, which tends to be one of the dirtiest stages of production.
“The fashion industry accounts for 20 percent of wastewater and 10 percent of carbon emissions globally,” Nick Martin, head of retail at Google’s cloud division, wrote in the company’s blog. The numbers come from the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE). “Much of this impact occurs at the raw materials stage in the production process, where brands have little to no visibility.”
Google hardly needs help with the tech piece of the puzzle, but for fashion and sustainability, the company tapped McCartney. The brand has been a major proponent of the sustainability movement, having helped launch the UN Fashion Industry Charter for climate change. It also founded Stella McCartney Cares Green last year to support education and raise funds for non-profits, lawyers and lobbyists fighting for environmental causes.
“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,” said Stella McCartney. “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.”
Google is also working with consultancy Current Global and speaking with various fashion brands, experts, NGOs — or “non-governmental organizations” — and industry groups to develop the tool, which will be based on Google Cloud’s data collection, analytics and machine learning. The company will pull in data sources that can shed light on the environmental impact of different textiles.
To start, Martin wants to take a harder look at cotton and viscose. They’re among the fashion industry’s most frequently used fibers, yet take a high toll in environmental impact. It takes a lot of water and pesticides to produce cotton, while viscose is associated with deforestation.
If the pilot goes well, he hopes to branch out to include other materials. That would give apparel companies a way to evaluate their impact on critical areas like air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, land use and water scarcity, as well as compare them across different regions where the textiles are produced. From there, they can make smarter sourcing choices.
“We hope that our 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,” said Martin.