Google and WWF Sweden partnership marks new era for fashion sustainability

Fashion is underpinned by its supply chain. And transparency in the supply chain has become more important than ever, particularly as the environmental impact of the industry has come under fire in recent years. 

But a promising new partnership between Google and WWF Sweden might set fashion on a new track, one that will enable companies to understand their supply chain in greater depth and drive responsible sourcing decisions.   

Google and WWF are now building on their individual knowledge and analytical strengths to collaborate on a traceability platform. The platform will leverage Google’s capabilities in big data and machine learning, and draw on WWF’s deep understanding of assessing the environmental impact of sourcing raw materials. Together, they’re able to make supply chain information more accessible and build a sustainable future for fashion. 

Our ambition is to fill fundamental data gaps by bringing greater accuracy to environmental reporting – ultimately moving toward more sustainable processes,” reveals Kate Brandt, Google’s Sustainability Officer.

Google’s step into fashion isn’t completely out of the blue. The search engine giant partnered with Stella McCartney in 2019, to introduce a cloud-based tool to track raw materials in the supply chain. The pilot was a great success and their partnership continues, sparking a change for fashion to become more sustainable over time. 

WWF had also partnered with IKEA to create a similar tool in 2018, which delved into analysing the environmental impact of raw materials used in their household goods and furniture. 

The adverse impact of fast fashion on the environment is spiralling faster than our consumption. Unfortunately, the problems exist through all stages of production from sourcing raw materials to the final product.  

The industry is regarded as one of the main culprits in environmental issues. Globally, the fashion sector produces up to 8% of annual greenhouse gas emissions. Furthermore, it’s now regarded as the second-largest polluter of water, trumped only by the oil industry.

Issues start in the production process. Take cotton for example – a staple crop of the fashion industry. World cotton production stands at approximately 23 million tonnes, is grown in 90 countries, and employs 300 million people in the process. This means the trade in cotton is heavily fragmented, with several stages of exchange before it reaches the final consumer. 

So how can retailers pinpoint exactly where it came from, and understand the impact on the environment that each stage brings?

The truth is, they can’t. It’s a near-impossible task for large retailers to fully grasp where their supply originates from. 

Fashion’s disjointed supply chain goes beyond cotton, but regardless of the material used, collecting traceability data at scale is a challenge for the industry as a whole. 

Although cotton and viscose were the first materials to be targeted, the new platform will include various other raw materials.

With fashion’s carbon footprint under the microscope more than ever, the new partnership provides data-driven insights into fashion’s supply chain and will help build a sustainable future for the industry.

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