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In Supply Chain Transparency, Certifications are Just the Beginning

Certification labels, supported by new technologies, are playing a major role in achieving greater transparency in the fashion supply chain, but they are not necessarily a panacea for building trust along the way through to the consumer.

“While everybody wants transparency, which they really want is business model transformation,” Natasha Franck, CEO of Eon, which works with brands to create products and materials that keep flowing through circular economy, said Wednesday on a panel at Premiere Vision New York Wednesday.

“We’re at an interesting shift where transparency really isn’t enough anymore,” Franck said. “It’s now how do you make sure your products are recycled, that you’re reducing your reliance on new natural resources, that your entire business model is in harmony with contributing to the greater good.”

For the past year, the company has been leading the Circular ID initiative that embeds data into a product that allows for post-consumer sorting for recycling or reuse. This not only advances a circular economy approach, but incentivizes companies to identify their raw materials and products for resale, Franck said.

She noted that in the real estate industry, it is clear if a building has LEED certification or not to measure the level of the sustainability achievement and leadership for virtually all building types.

“In the fashion industry, it’s really not very clear, and there’s nothing right now that is an all-encompassing product certification that all brands are benchmarked against,” Franck said.

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Leo Bonnani, CEO of Sourcemap, which makes software for supply chain transparency, said from his point of view, “transparency is not the point, it’s about having good supply chains.”

Bonnani said transparency is good at the B2B level, but consumers are looking at the attributes of the product–is it recycled, is it certified–“so certification labels create a nugget that you can readily digest as a consumer.”

He said one of the reasons that companies hire Sourcemap is that certifications aren’t enough to assure them or their customers that their supply chains are truly sustainable. This gives a more nuanced evaluation of their supply chain that’s digitized and not set in time like a certification label can appear, even though most require annual or some time-referenced renewal.

“So the idea of certification is great, it created responsible sourcing, but now the time and technology is ready to give you 100 percent visibility,” Bonnani said.

Franck went back to the LEED certification example in agreeing with the point, noting that the advent of “dynamic certification” came about to measure things like water consumption and energy usage regularly. The panelists noted that the Sustainable Apparel Coalition’s Higg Index is probably the closest to being such a benchmark, but it isn’t there yet.

Chris Morrison, CEO of Transparency One, which helps companies digitize their responsible sourcing efforts, save time, reduce risks, said certification are a good foundation or baseline, “but it’s a snapshot in time.”

“One of the opportunities we see in leveraging certification data today is looking beyond the direct vendor or supplier…to map back into the supply chain,” Morrison said. “Having a multi-tiered view is very important.”