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New Green Supply Chain Map Links Brands to Their Chinese Suppliers

A new tool is taking sustainability and supply chain transparency to another—very public—level. And it may also mean a cut back on factory audit costs.

In a leadership initiative aimed at showcasing brands’ commitment to transparency and environmental ethics, the U.S. Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and China’s Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs (IPE), launched the first green supply chain map that links brands’ supplier lists to publicly available environmental data.

Brands like Inditex, Gap, Target, Puma, New Balance and Esprit are already participating in the project, and their supplier and environmental data is featured in the map.

“Until now, customers have lacked effective tools to assess the environmental impact of their favorite brands’ global operations,” said Linda Greer, senior health scientist for NRDC and founder of its Clean by Design green supply chain program. “These companies that have stepped up to put their names first on the inaugural map are showing new levels of transparency on their manufacturing abroad and are demonstrating real leadership in supply chain responsibility.”

Visitors to the green supply chain site can select a brand they’re interested in, and the map will populate with the company’s known suppliers. Map users can then click in to a supplier to reveal the facility name and address and reports on any violation records, and find out how the supplier is performing in terms of emissions, water use and wastewater discharge, at that moment, and they can even review a 30-day trend of emissions and discharges. Feedback about corrective actions to improve environmental performance is also available with the map.

“Map users can filter by brand to view and understand individual companies’ supply chains, or can also filter to see the types of data that each facility discloses,” IPE notes on its site. “At the same time, it also allows consumers to incorporate brands’ efforts to minimize supply chain environmental impacts into purchasing decisions.”

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The IPE’s green supply chain map is so far monitoring nearly 15,000 major industrial facilities in China.

The map is just the latest product of NRDC and IPE’s partnership. The two organizations have been working together for the last eight years to address China’s pollution problems—and they owe 25 percent of the country’s problems with carbon emissions alone to the manufacture of products for export.

[Read more about pollution in China: China Shutters 80,000 Factories in Pollution Crackdown]

With the map, the hope is that companies will have the real-time information they need to ensure they’re running environmental operations, even if they haven’t boarded a plane across seas to see it for themselves.

“The creation of the map opens up significant opportunities for retailers and brands to green their supply chains by raising expectations that suppliers will actively maintain solid environmental management and transparency,” NRDC said in a statement. “Well-performing factories can be recognized and motivated by multinational and local Chinese firms, whose procurement departments can award greater market share for those demonstrating excellence in their environmental behavior. When used correctly, the IPE Green Supply Chain Map can reduce the time and expense associated with factory audits, which often don’t identify hidden problems as well.”

The map is bilingual, with English and Chinese versions, and it also includes a search bar to check supplier name keywords.

“The map has the potential to become a true game-changer for public environmental oversight and improvement efforts for industrial manufacturing in China,” Ma Jun, environmentalist and director at IPE, said. “We hope to see more brands step up their game and join the map to connect the missing dots of accountability in the vast network of global supply chains.”