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Textile Exchange Taking Control of Google’s Global Fiber Impact Explorer

Google and WWF announced the results of a first case study on a digital tool being built to help fashion brands understand the environmental risk and impact of their fiber sourcing.

Developed with luxury fashion house Stella McCartney, the digital tool informs the brand’s sustainable sourcing strategy on the ground in Turkey through previously opaque and inaccessible data. To assure widespread industry access and continued development, the tool is now being transitioned to Textile Exchange, a global NGO focused on raw materials in the textile industry.

The aim is to provide global fashion brands and sourcing teams access to the platform in 2022. Global brands, including Bestseller, H&M Group, Inditex, Tentree and VF Corp., will pilot the innovative traceability system for Textile Exchange’s Global Recycle Standard (GRS) and Recycled Claim Standard (RCS)-certified materials across their supply chains.

“Climate action starts at the source of the materials we choose,” Claire Bergkamp, chief operating officer of Textile Exchange, said. “The Global Fiber Impact Explorer has the potential to influence a brand’s sourcing decisions positively. The tool complements the work already underway at Textile Exchange to support and accelerate the adoption of lower impact fibers and materials. Meaningful change cannot happen in isolation. A holistic view is required to shift away from the current system that leads to pollution and poverty and toward a system that supports prosperity and regeneration.”

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Participating certification bodies include Control Union, USB Certification, IDFL, Intertek and Bureau Veritas. After these pilots, scaling programs will be designed to facilitate a rollout on a commercial level. The traceability system will be further expanded to cover the animal fiber standards, followed by the Organic Cotton Standard (OCS) in 2022.

Google and WWF’s new digital tool will help inform the fashion industry’s sustainable sourcing strategy from the ground up through previously inaccessible data insights, incorporating climate risk and impact, according to a first case study released Wednesday at the 2021 Textile Sustainability Conference. The Global Fiber Impact Explorer (GFIE), a Google Cloud-based solution, is an intuitive environmental data platform built to enable more responsible sourcing decisions at the raw materials stage of the fashion and textiles supply chain, where significant damage is done, data is most opaque and there is substantial opportunity for positive impact.

Based on analysis of Stella McCartney’s raw materials portfolio, the tool has identified cotton sources in Turkey facing increased water and climate risks. This affirms the need for investment in local farming communities focused on regenerative practices such as water management and soil regeneration to support climate mitigation and adaptation.

The GFIE assesses risk by fiber and region, drawing together data and analysis across a multitude of environmental impact factors, including air pollution, biodiversity, climate and greenhouse gases, forestry and water use and water quality. Through an intuitive interface, brands will be able to understand and more accurately identify risks across more than 20 fiber types, including natural, cellulosic and synthetics, at a granular level thanks to a combination of high-caliber national data and near real-time sub national data insights, according to Textile Exchange.

Results in the tool will provide brands with recommendations for targeted and regionally specific risk reduction activities, such as opportunities for positive interventions with farmers, producers, communities and those in the surrounding landscape to drive improvements.

The Stella McCartney team has been working with Google on conceptualizing and testing the platform since its inception in 2019, as a complement to its existing efforts along different stages of the supply chain. Stella McCartney has already been working with farmers and communities in the region on supporting the transition to regenerative agricultural practices and can use the insights from the tool to further develop its regenerative strategy.

“More and more, consumers are insisting that they understand where their clothing is coming from,” Stella McCartney, founder and creative director of her namesake company, said. “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.”

The GFIE was born out of a partnership between Google and WWF, bringing together similar projects from each organization and drawing on their strengths. It is built to complement existing tools in the industry focused on impact and risk analysis.

The GFIE provides insights into various environmental risk and impact data categories, including air pollution, forest, biodiversity, climate, and water usage and quality. It can help, for example, to predict the water risk of agricultural fibers pre-spin or the potential for air pollution impacts from synthetic fibers. The team also plans to add additional impact factors in the next phase of development.