Tech giant Google has partnered with World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Sweden to develop a new environmental platform that will utilise supply chain data to help drive more responsible sourcing decisions across the fashion industry.

The new tool will leverage big-data analysis and machine learning from Google Cloud to measure the environmental impact of raw materials and sourcing locations. 

Each material and sourcing location will be scored on multiple environmental issues such as water scarcity or air pollution, as well as estimating specific impacts such as greenhouse gas emissions and accounting for the ‘mitigation benefits’ of more sustainable sourcing options.

Much of the industry’s impact occurs at the raw materials stage in the production process, known as Tier 4, where supply chains can be highly fragmented, and gathering and assessing data at scale is a challenge.

The aim is to use Google Cloud’s technical capacity and WWF’s knowledge of assessing raw materials to address these needs, providing a platform that could be used on a standalone basis or as a complement to existing efforts.

“Sustainability is a challenge that crosses industry boundaries, and we firmly believe that solutions require strong partnerships and collaboration,” says Kate Brandt, Google sustainability officer. “Our ambition is to fill fundamental data gaps by bringing greater accuracy to environmental reporting—ultimately moving toward more sustainable processes. By combining our technology, and with data inputs from many key industry brands and retailers, we believe we can significantly magnify this work together.”

The move builds on a pilot announced at the 2019 Copenhagen Fashion Summit between Google Cloud and Stella McCartney to provide a more comprehensive view into raw materials of clothing manufacturers’ supply chains, with a focus on cotton and viscose.

That work continues with Stella McCartney, whose team, Google and WWF Sweden say, have been “pivotal” in shaping the concept of the platform and will continue as the first fashion brand to test it. WWF Sweden and long-term partner IKEA created a similar tool in 2018, focused on analysing the risk and impact of various textiles raw materials.

Google and WWF Sweden will collaborate on an updated platform leveraging all of these data types, aiming to further increase the accuracy and relevance of raw materials assessments. The new platform will also move beyond cotton and viscose to include numerous additional raw materials based on WWF data and knowledge.

WWF Sweden will bring to the platform its own proprietary (and normalised public data) on risk, life-cycle assessment and the strength of sustainability solutions for textiles raw materials. It will also support Google in selecting relevant additional datasets, as well as providing the framework for calculation and processing of each type of data to create the overall scores and mitigation actions for each fibre and location.

In addition to Stella McCartney and IKEA, WWF and Google are also in consultation with a “large number” of other fashion, luxury, denim, and athletic brands and retailers.

“It’s our ambition to create a data-enriched decision-making platform that enables analysis of the supply chain in a way that has not been possible before at this scale,” says Ian Pattison, head of customer engineering, retail, at Google UK/ IE. “Together, we can make supply chain data visible and accessible to decision-makers, and drive more responsible and sustainable decisions.”

Håkan Wirtén, CEO of WWF Sweden, adds: “WWF’s partnership work with companies has always been motivated by the need to drive real transformation at the largest possible scale. This project is an excellent example of how we can take valuable work with a long term partner like IKEA, collaborate with another strong WWF partner like Google to make that work even more powerful, and make it open source so that hopefully it can help with the transformation of a whole industry.”