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Assessing Carbon and Water Impacts at the Production Level

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The textile and leather supply chain is a complex system, and both the industry and the consumer are demanding greater transparency from start to finish. But before a company can convey all of its environmental impacts, it first has to identify what they are.

“Recognizing and quantifying impacts is top of mind,” said Ben Mead, managing director USA of testing and certification company Hohenstein, a founding member and leading provider of OEKO-TEX® services that enable consumers and companies to protect the planet by making responsible decisions.

But for companies aiming to reduce their emissions by 30 percent by 2030, this is easier said than done. “Production facilities are trying to reach some of the goals they have set, but in some cases, they’re just trying to figure out what those targets even are.”

For those overwhelmed by the complex and nuanced layers of sustainability impacts, Hohenstein asks companies to look at the worst offenders—carbon emissions and excess water usage—then dig deep for the most accurate assessments.

To achieve this, OEKO-TEX® recently developed a new carbon and water footprint tool that lets companies measure and quantify carbon and water impacts at each stage of a product’s development along the supply chain. This will be integrated into its existing STeP by OEKO-TEX® auditing and certification system already used by many manufacturers at the facility level. STeP stands for Sustainable Textile (and Leather) Production.

Working with industry experts, Hohenstein identified over 100 key production activities that are the basis for the carbon and water footprint calculations, going through product lifecycle assessments and corporate practices.

“Our new carbon and water footprint tool takes things to another level,” said Mead. “Instead of just measuring total water or energy used, we help companies really understand where that water or energy is coming from, then tie it back into impacts of greenhouse gas emissions and ultimately what’s happening at the product downstream.”

OEKO-TEX® identifies four phases of carbon and water footprinting designed to enable companies to ascertain, and relay, the full story. One, understand production-related carbon emissions; two, identify which processes have the highest environmental impacts; three, act to reduce carbon and water usage in the future; and four, report results and reduction measures to customers.

“We want companies to go from knowing what’s happening at a single facility level to aggregating all the data together and being able to say, okay, this finished product comes from materials or processes happening in multiple locations, and now we can bring that data together to tell the whole product story for the retail and consumer side,” said Mead.

Companies customize the carbon and water footprint tool for their facility and supply chain, but the tool supplements with lifecycle assessment (LCA) libra data—“best of industry averages”—to fill in any holes around unknown data points. “We use industry data from Qantas to help companies achieve a more comprehensive picture,” said Mead.

Track and strategize

A company can report its carbon and water footprint at three levels: per facility, per step process, and per kilogram of materials produced. The key is for companies to use the data they derive from this tool to strategize towards continuous improvement.

OEKO-TEX®’s third-party certification expertise also offers objectivity, which helps companies better scrutinize their own operations and establish a baseline from which to improve. Data output is only as good as data input, and OEKO-TEX® offers validity to the numbers.

Hohenstein also encourages companies that use the tool to translate that additional gathered data into consumer-facing information—in the next phase of this project, the data will be displayed on the MADE IN GREEN by OEKO-TEX® label—for a validated, more complete picture of that product’s impact.

“Consumers want to know how their apparel is made, but they’re not going to read a 60-page LCA report,” said Mead. “We’re creating a simplified process that can be easily communicated through the different parts of the disconnected supply chain, and then ultimately to get that in the hands of the consumer.”

Click the image above to watch the video discussion with Sourcing Journal publisher Caletha Crawford and learn more about OEKO-TEX®’s water and carbon assessment tool.

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