Six apparel sector brands have joined a new real-time supply chain transparency tool launched this month by the Natural Resources Defense Council in the United States and the Institute of Public & Environmental Affairs (IPE) in China.
Target, Esprit, New Balance, PUMA, Gap Inc., and Inditex are now publicly linked to their suppliers’ environmental performance through the IPE Green Supply Chain Map. Each brand shares a list of known facilities with IPE, which then conducts a mapping process against a database of Chinese facilities that have publicly available real-time monitoring, Kurt Kipka, senior project manager for NRDC’s Responsible Sourcing Initiative, told Environmental Leader.
“In most cases, the brands have already made these lists available to the general public so the map simply takes existing information and improves upon its usability,” Kipka says. “Access to data is a critical step in both identifying and curtailing highly polluting practices in the textile supply chain.”
The NRDC and IPE say that as China has expanded its industrial manufacturing base, as much as 25% of carbon emissions have been linked to the manufacture of products for export. Air, water, and soil pollution problems have emerged.
A report from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s Circular Fibers Initiative published last November pointed to adverse effects in the textiles value chain, specifically.
“Heavy chemical use is involved in making other cellulose-based fibers, in particular viscose. The processes used to make these fibers extract cellulose from trees or other plants using a variety of process-specific chemicals,” the report noted. “Without correct handling, this can cause significant problems for factory workers through direct exposure, and chemicals have been found to be released in large quantities into rivers in Asia.”
The IPE Green Supply Chain Map, which has versions in English and Chinese, gives companies real-time information to ensure environmentally responsible operations from afar, according to the NRDC and IPE. “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 organizations say.
Other widely used supply chain tools exist that provide similar data, Kipka says. However, they provide information at a single point in time, potentially missing critical ebbs and flows, he added. What sets the IPE map apart is that it displays information in real time, automatically.
Using publicly available data from the Chinese government, IPE’s database and map show real-time data and historical trends in air pollution emissions and wastewater discharge for nearly 15,000 major industrial facilities in China, the organizations say. The database also has environmental supervision records for more than 500,000 additional facilities.
“By connecting supplier lists with publicly available information, brands — and eventually consumers — can use the tool to reduce the global impact of textile manufacturing by making more informed purchasing decisions,” Kipka says.
Supply Chain Opportunities
So far, the response to the map has been strong, Kipka told Environmental Leader. The NRDC and IPE expect interest to grow throughout the year as more brands are added.
When companies focus on procuring materials throughout the supply chain in a way that addresses climate risk, they see financial benefits. A recent report from McKinsey and the environmental disclosure platform CDP found that companies on the CDP leaderboard outperformed the market by 6% over four years. Collectively, the world’s “greenest” buyers saved $14 billion through carbon emissions reduction activities.
One of the potential advantages of the IPE Green Supply Chain Map for participating brands is just-in-time identification of potentially egregious supply chain oversight and management issues. Spotting those can drastically reduce the time it takes brands to collaboratively address the concerns with their business partners, Kipka says. In addition, joining the map underscores a brand’s commitment to setting and upholding standards of performance.
“Although the map in its early stages of development, we hope it inspires more companies to follow the leadership of our inaugural brands and volunteer their supply lists to the effort,” Kipka says. “We also hope that additional countries and industries see the map as framework for managing supply chain impacts.”
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