Home Featured The apparel industry is destroying our planet; can PLM reverse this?

The apparel industry is destroying our planet; can PLM reverse this?

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Here, ITC Infotech, a global IT services and solutions company, share another exclusive blog with us. Written by Rajnish Kumar, Global Practice Head of Retail Consulting, and Richa Sharma, Process Consultant for Fashion Retail, this article explores what PLM can do for fashion retailers and brands. Having recently launched their Sustainability Solution, this piece focuses on PLM and sustainability. 

“We live on a human-dominated planet, putting unprecedented pressure on the systems on Earth”, warns environmental scientist Johan Rockström in a TED talk from July 2010. He continues, “We’re the first generation, thanks to science, to be informed that we may be undermining the stability and the ability of planet Earth to support human development as we know it”. He further opines, “The planetary risks we’re facing are so large, that business as usual is not an option”. Perhaps it is because of this that all stakeholders – from school children to multi-national corporations to governments of developed nations – have developed an interest in environmental conservation.

Screen Shot 2016-05-03 at 12.34.06To effectively quantify the impact, Johan Rockström in 2009 proposed (and Will Steffen in 2015 extended the theory of) nine “planetary boundaries”, which explains that sustainable growth can be achieved only if mankind stays within those boundaries. Crossing those boundaries could lead to dangerous and irreversible social and environmental damage to Earth. They highlight that humans have already crossed the boundaries in two areas: ‘Biodiversity Loss’ and ‘Nitrogen cycle’ (figure 1, to the right). However, it is not too late to protect the remaining seven of them, especially ‘Climate Change’, where we are rapidly moving towards disaster.

While the United States saw one of their harshest snow blizzards in February 2015, the same year was named the warmest year globally. The only logic which could explain such extreme variations is climate change. Not so long ago, certain scientists claimed that global warming theories were a scam to extort money for environmental research out of the governments and environmental protection funds. Today they have no choice but to agree.

While the debate on climate change may still have not died completely, there are some encouraging examples which do not focus on the problem but on the solution. A small developing nation, Bhutan, which is now an acclaimed global leader in environmental sustainability, committed itself to perpetually remain Carbon Neutral to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Copenhagen in 2009. However at that time, not many nations took notice of Bhutan’s intentions and initiative. Fortunately, Bhutan was not discouraged, and it kept to its pledge of having more than 60% forest cover. In 2015 December in Paris, at COP 21, Bhutan reiterated their promise to remain carbon neutral for times to come and hopefully forever. This time they were heard.

In February 2016, Tshering Tobgay, Bhutan’s incumbent Prime Minister, declared in a TED talk that out of 200 countries in the world, Bhutan is the only country that’s carbon neutral. In fact, Bhutan generates 2.2 million tons of carbon dioxide, but its forests sequester more than three times that amount, so it is a net carbon sink for more than four million tons of carbon dioxide each year.

Nations now feel accountable and are inspired to do whatever is in their means to protect the environment, even if it involves following a leader like Bhutan. To add to these positive changes, some of the inspired entrepreneurs have taken the responsibility to help fight climate change. Tesla Motors is a great example, where founder Elon Musk wanted to create zero emission cars with a mission to “accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable transport”.

What may come as news to many of us is that fashion, too, has its share of impact on the environment. In fact, our industry is claimed to be the second largest polluter in the world, after oil. The world now consumes about 80 billion new pieces of clothing every year. This is 400% more than the amount we consumed just two decades ago. The environmental impact magnifies exponentially at each level of global supply chain, starting from Planning & Design to Disposal. The carbon footprint of one t-shirt is estimated to be approximately 15 kg of CO2. This means that a t-shirt’s carbon footprint is approximately 20 times its own weight.

Some of the statistics below are alarming and raise a concern about the impact on environment.

Sustainability module

Realizing their responsibility towards the environment, major fashion retailers like Walmart, H&M, Adidas, Target, Levi’s, Kering, Nike, and M&S, have pioneered several sustainable fashion initiatives. Also, the consumers have become conscious of their buying behavior and they also expect the brands to be accountable. The best way to tackle the problem is to take an approach of measuring the environmental impact and validating whether the products are green, even before they are produced. Fashion retailers need help, not only in measuring the sustainability performance of a product at the development stage, but also in standardizing the metrics.

In the fashion industry, Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) is a widely used tool which streamlines communication and provides instant visibility throughout the supply chain. It has been used by retailers and brands for over a decade to manage their products from concept to development and sourcing. It is, therefore, a logical step for retailers to use their existing PLM systems to drive sustainability initiatives.

Measuring Sustainability in PLM

PLM can bridge the gap to make the whole process of driving sustainability seamless – from product design to commercialization while capturing end to end sustainability scores. This would enable retailers to offer more ‘Green’ products to their customers by sourcing the merchandise from suppliers who have high sustainability scores.

ITC Infotech has created the Sustainability Application for Fashion Retail on the FlexPLM platform, which can help retailers to make greener decisions at every stage of product development.PLM can be an ideal tool to specify the right packaging specification in tandem with the specified compliances. A packaging sustainability scorecard—similar to the material and supplier sustainability scorecard—can be developed to determine which packaging has the lowest environmental impact PLM provides benchmarks at the Brand, Product and Supplier level. At the brand level, to improve the performance by comparing the scores within the company. At the product level, to track the scores of their product on the basis of fabric wastage, chemical usage, and water and energy consumption. And at the supplier level, to measure the social and environmental performance of their suppliers. PLM also gives product design and development process visibility with corresponding measurable sustainability scores.

T-shirt image

How does it work?

The sustainability module in PLM tracks and reports the environmental impacts of energy, water and packaging employing global standards of measurement at following stages of a product’s lifecycle:

Tracking methodology

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Conclusion

Going forward, all fashion retailers will need to speak a common language to communicate their level of sustainability. And with the increase in demand globally, it will be sooner rather than later that sustainability will evolve from being a marketing pitch to a business strategy. A few years from now, we can expect brands and retailers to have a “Green Star” tag on their products just like we have the energy star rating in the case of Electronic goods today.

Lydia Mageean Lydia Mageean has been part of the WhichPLM team for over six years now. She has a creative and media background, and is responsible for maintaining and updating our website content, liaising with advertisers, working on special projects like the Annual Review, and more.Joining mid-2013 as our Online Editor, she has since become WhichPLM’s Editor. In addition to taking on writing and interviewing responsibilities, Lydia has also become the primary point of contact for news, events, features and other aspects of our ever-growing online content library and tools.