Sustainable Apparel Coalition Discusses “Wearing It Well: How the Apparel Sector is Accelerating Change in Supply Chains” at New York Climate Week

  • NY Climate Week
Photo of tailors sewing by hand
October 20, 2023

At a New York Climate Week panel convened by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), Lee Green, Senior Director of Marketing and Communications at the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC) joined other panelists from the apparel sector to discuss accelerating transparency, accountability, and collaboration in supply chains on The Nest Climate Campus. The session was moderated by Payal Luthra, Global Apparel and Textiles Lead at WWF, who set the scene by acknowledging that with more and more sectors focusing on Scope 3 data and emission reductions, supply chain data integrity and transparency have never been more critical. The goal of the multi-stakeholder session – which also included Natalie Grillon, Executive Director of Open Supply Hub and Abigail Kammerzell, Head of Sustainability for H&M North America – was to share reflections, lessons learned, case studies and tools as part of a discussion on the role of open data and cross-sector collaboration to accelerate change in supply chains.

Grillon opened the discussion by sharing how Open Supply Hub, a nonprofit and open-source supply chain data platform that includes data from over 750 organizations world-wide, serves as a transparent resource to identify facilities and ensure trustworthy data sources, which in turn facilitates collaboration to tackle supply chain issues and achieve shared goals.

Green shared how the SAC, a global multi-stakeholder nonprofit alliance, evolved from an initial partnership between Patagonia and Walmart in 2010 to now represent more than 50% of the apparel and textile industry in 36 countries – over 280 retailers, brands and manufacturers, as well as affiliate stakeholders including academics and NGOs. “This panel really reflects our ecosystem,” Green said. “H&M is a longstanding member, and they sit on our Board. WWF is an affiliate member, and we have worked alongside Open Supply Hub. Alliances like these can help realize our vision of a global industry that gives more than it takes – to the planet and its people.”

The conversation then broadened to define transparency versus traceability – and the panel agreed that transparency is critical for climate action. Grillon shared that the textile and apparel industry reflects more transparency than other sectors, and traced the evolution of this fact from the role of the consumer and the history of civil society engagement, to the role of conveners like the SAC and brands like H&M.

Kammerzell shared how H&M, which has disclosed supplier information since 2013, uses both the SAC’sHigg Index, the industry-leading suite of tools for companies to measure environmental and social performance across the entire value chain, and Open Supply Hub. She also detailed how open data facilitates collaboration on nature-based solutions and investments, such as the partnership with WWF and on the wood Ai app used at factories in Cambodia. In collaboration with WWF, she explained, H&M is engaged in a regenerative wool project in South Africa and sustainable cotton production in India, which helps farmers adapt and become more resilient to climate change. However, she also shared the need for tracking the impact of raw materials – through Textile Exchange certified and TextileGenesis Tracking – and how H&M is working to improve Tier 1 and Tier 2 traceability.

The group discussed tangible examples of how open data can enable Scope 3 mitigation and climate adaption. These included Mammut, which is utilizing the Open Supply Chain Hub to collaborate more effectively with its suppliers to lower its supply chain GHG emissions, and ALDO, which used the Higg Product Module to provide granular life cycle assessment data that facilitated the introduction of products manufactured with more sustainable materials, which achieved a lower carbon footprint, as well as to collaborate with value chain partners on decarbonizing the company’s supply chain. Green shared that the SAC had announced a new revised strategic plan at New York Climate Week, which included a redefined mandate of “evolution for impact” – a focal theme that now drives the organization’s strategies, initiatives, and partnerships, which leverage the strengths of multiple organizations to drive catalytic change.

In addition to detailing how the SAC’s Decarbonization Program, which aims for a 45% emissions reduction by 2030, Green shared updates to the SAC’s membership requirements this year, requiring all its members to set Science Based Targets (SBTs). He added that as of September 2023, more than half of SAC members had either set or committed to setting SBTs. Green also revealed that in November, the SAC, with Worldly, the impact intelligence platform that is the exclusive licensee of the SAC’s Higg Tools, will collectively launch the Higg Facility Environmental Module (FEM) 4.0, which aligns with global standards to drive emissions reductions, offering improved data quality that enables more accurate environmental assessments and industry alignment through compliance with the GHG Protocol and ZDHC Roadmap to Zero standards, among other benefits. And, with data from the Higg Index and in partnership with Aii, Worldly and Reset Carbon, Green shared how the SAC has been able to pinpoint suppliers contributing the most emissions through data collected via the Higg Index. By focusing engagement efforts there, the organization will establish targeted programs to drive decarbonization at scale – and modeling suggests that this could lead to a 35% reduction in emissions by 2030, based on a 2.3% growth rate.

“We stand at a crossroads,” Green said. “We can either remain passive participants or become catalysts for profound, industry-wide change. This isn’t just SAC’s journey; it isn’t just H&M’s or Open Supply Hub’s;  it’s a collective endeavor. And the active participation of all actors is the accelerator for our shared impact.”

Green recommended that that brands engage the value chain, work with partners, and avoid unnecessary duplications, and advocate for policies that lead to real change – and shared the goal for policymakers to provide clear and consistent guidance, leaving no room for ambiguity for data usage, from product footprinting and responsible purchasing practices to reporting standards and consumer labeling. In both cases, “Just get started,” Green said. “Don’t let perfection be the enemy of progress…We don’t have time to wait for perfect solutions. The perfect time for action was yesterday. The next best date is today, so let’s get moving.”

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