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 the study released this week at the 2021 Textile Sustainability Conference.

Developed with luxury fashion house Stella McCartney, the tool informs the brand’s sustainable sourcing strategy on the ground in Turkey through what it described as previously “opaque and inaccessible” data.

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In order 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, with the aim to provide global fashion brands and sourcing teams access to the platform in 2022. Additional brands can register interest in the platform.

The Global Fibre Impact Explorer (GFIE) -a Google Cloud-based solution, whose vision was first announced in June 2019, 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 -water management and soil regeneration – to support climate mitigation and adaptation.

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

The GFIE assesses risk by fibre 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 20-plus fibre types –  including natural, cellulosic and synthetics –  at a granular level thanks to a combination of high calibre national data and near real-time sub-national data insights. It is said to be the first time that this breadth of data and impacts have been combined into an integrated risk assessment tool for the textiles industry.

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.

“With the Global Fibre Impact Explorer, we’re seeing how powerful data can be when combined with strong partnerships and an industry committed to finding innovative solutions to fight climate change. The transparency and insights offered by the GFIE will allow those making sourcing decisions everyday to make smarter investments at a critical stage of the supply chain where actionable data has traditionally been lacking. We’re excited to now be handing the GFIE over to Textile Exchange to ensure that brands both big and small will have access to this data,” says Ruth Porat, CFO, Alphabet and Google

Marcus Albers, acting director finance and corporate engagement WWF-Sweden, adds: “Fashion can have significant raw materials impact. Life cycle data can help companies understand some impacts, but doesn’t fully capture contextual risks in sourcing locations. WWF has a long history of providing geographical risk tools, and this collaboration with Google draws together both impact and risk data to provide a more holistic assessment that should provide significant value and insights for the industry.”

The Stella McCartney team has been working with Google on conceptualising and testing the platform since its inception in 2019, as a complement to its existing efforts along different stages of the supply chain. The pilot carried out together spotlights risks present in the brand’s cotton sourcing in the Buyuk Menderes region in western Turkey. The tool collated multiple layers of water risk and climate projection data through algorithmic analysis to identify water availability challenges that are likely to intensify in the future due to climate change. Additional analysis also illustrated the area has relatively low soil carbon, linked to lower biodiversity intensity and soil loss.

This points to the need for regenerative farming practices to help support soil carbon sequestration, increase soil water retention, and reduce soil loss. 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.

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

With the initial development phase complete, Google and WWF are now partnering with Textile Exchange. As the official host of the Global Fibre Impact Explorer, Textile Exchange will continue the development of the tool as well as conducting stakeholder outreach, working towards an industry launch in 2022.

“Climate action starts at the source of the materials we choose. The Global Fibre 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 fibres 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 towards a system that supports prosperity and regeneration. This tool helps the industry move towards this holistic understanding of impact,” says Claire Bergkamp, COO of Textile Exchange.

In addition to Stella McCartney, other leading fashion, luxury, denim, and athletic brands and retailers have been consulted to help test and refine the tool, ensuring it results in one that can be used by the entire industry. Included are adidas, Allbirds, H&M Group and VF Corporation.