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04/19/2021

The Value of Data In Today’s Sustainability Challenges

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In 2021, it is a necessity for companies to incorporate sustainability goals into their business plan if they intend to prosper. Consumers have become increasingly aware of companies' sustainability goals, or lack thereof, and the result is shown in the bottom line.

A Capgemini Report details that 79% of consumers are changing their purchase preferences based on social responsibility, inclusiveness, or environmental impact shown by a brand. Online sales have increased exponentially with 36% of consumers now shopping online, and many companies reporting record sales.

With more time to shop and research products, brands can provide consumers with extra information about their products’ origin, manufacturing and how they prove their product claims.

Consumers are inundated with promotions and sales daily. As companies in the textile and apparel industry continue to make lofty commitments, with accusations of “greenwashing,” the question remains: Which brands can you trust?

Promises of recycled polyester from post-consumer waste, or apparel made with sustainable cotton plague marketing efforts, but without real evidence of this commitment. Information without integrity and responsibility is fuel for misinformation and damaging to brand reputation.

One of the challenges for the fashion industry is verifying sustainability data, proving the provenance of raw materials, and then tracing that through the product lifecycle. This challenge leads to less information being reported to back up claims because of the lack of oversight throughout the supply chain or the reliance on paper and transaction certificates or blockchains with uploaded data that may not have been fully vetted. 

Claims without data are inherently risky due to the increased savviness of consumers, NGOs and advocates calling for further action. According to a 2017 UNECE report, the factors shaping consumers’ behavior and attitudes towards sustainability appear to have a direct relationship with issues related to enhancing transparency in textile supply chains.

COVID-19 has certainly placed more constraints on companies meeting sustainability goals as many supply chains continue to suffer due to lack of cash flow, excess inventory and insolvent suppliers. Further challenges are now amplified by recent forced labor problems, which are impacting the sourcing of cotton globally.

With the uncertainties and risks continuing post-COVID-19, companies that invest in an integrated supply chain with the ability to tag materials at the point of origin and track throughout the lifecycle with molecular data may have a strategic advantage.  The key to proving that sustainability goals are being met is by linking them with scientific data for actual products, down to even trims and zippers.

Patagonia continues to be one of the industry leaders when it comes to full involvement and transparency in the supply chain. The brand touts 100% fully traceable post-consumer recycled fishing net material as one of their textiles and has implemented a supply chain responsibility program, ensuring that all aspects of their supply chain are meeting above minimum requirements while reducing environmental impacts. They are on a growing list of retailers and fashion groups, including Kering, who demonstrate the effective ability to report to consumers on all aspects of their manufacturing.

Ultimately, it comes down to trust. In a February Washington Post article, the CBP stated to brands “they better know their supply chains.” If brands can accurately verify their materials to the finished product, then they can say with confidence that they indeed “know their supply chain.”

Track-and-trace technologies can help brands be proactive about the information they share, so consumers can make informed choices. By engaging the brands with their supply chains, they can better educate their consumers. Everyone wins in the end — from the grower to the consumer — and the loop, once broken, is now securely tied from end to end.

Wayne Buchen
Wayne Buchen

Wayne Buchen is VP, strategic sales at Applied DNA Sciences.

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