Is there too much data about brand’s sustainability efforts?

It is a bold statement: there is too much data. In the fashion industry, there is a constant desire for more data to support the increasing number of sustainability claims. Now, industry insiders realize that it is more than just having access to the data; they also need to organize it. To solve that conundrum, CEOs and analysts are coming together to discuss the influx of sustainability data and processing it more efficiently and effectively using some unique methods.

The deficit of sustainability data has been filled, and then some, by brands.

  • When sustainability first became a topic of concern in the fashion industry, brands put out vague statements with little evidence to support their claims.

  • Thanks to consumers' and activist organizations' involvement, brands now freely supply the public with data to back up their sustainability initiatives.

  • Unfortunately, brands put out all this data without any cohesive organization.

  • There is no standardized, universal system that can verify and organize information from brands.

  • There are a few certifications and nonprofits brands can work with to try and add credibility to their products, but without standardization, those certificates are just as meaningless as the data they are meant to verify.

  • CEOs of data collection organizations in the fashion industry came together during a webinar last year to discuss the problems with excess information.

  • The CEO of Higg Co., Jason Kibbey, and the VP and CSO of Cotton Inc., Jesse Daystar, were present at the webinar.

  • Higg Co. is a system trying to measure the environmental and social impact of brands and their product. Patagonia and Walmart support it.

  • Cotton Incorporated does research on the cotton supply chain and cotton promotions in industries like fashion. It is the force behind the denim recycling program Blue Jeans Go Green.

There is too much data that it is cost-prohibitive.

  • It has become too expensive to organize and process all the sustainability data coming from brands.

  • Kibbey and Daystar agreed that organizing the sheer amount of data from all fashion brands, small to mega, would be prohibitively expensive.

  • Even for firms like Higg Co. and Cotton Inc. — that work directly with brands to process their data — there is too much.

  • And the data keeps coming.

  • New sustainable-focused brands are created every week, and existing retail giants and luxury houses are spending billions to implement more sustainability initiatives.

  • This means even more data is being added to the already overflowing mountain.

Collection firms are trying to align and share information.

  • Beyond Higg Co. and Cotton Inc., firms that focus on collecting and certificating sustainability data are eagerly working together.

  • The general idea is that smaller certification programs can work together with bigger regulatory bodies — Higg Co. and Cotton Inc. — and create new guidelines and verification systems that are used in all sectors of the fashion industry, even for non-sustainability related data.

  • Creating a unified body for data collection would benefit consumers and brands.

  • Consumers can go to one source and trust that all the information has been verified by the best in the industry.

  • Brands only have to work with one certification platform instead of meeting different guidelines from different regulators.

  • One regulatory body would also promote the sustainable fashion movement to more consumers and brands not currently involved. It would get more public attention than smaller, independent organizations and systems.

Holistic assessments and a focus on key metrics are vital.

  • Jesse Daystar said it best, "Sustainability is an ever-moving target."

  • To keep up with that target sustainability data needs to be simple.

  • Taking a holistic approach to assessing data is vital to avoid getting bogged down in details that could be at odds with each other.

  • Daystar, and other experts, also recommend looking at the key metrics to keep data reporting simple and easy to understand.

  • Some examples of key metrics are: greenhouse gas emissions, physical waste production, and freshwater usage.

  • A select number of certificates could also be used to help consumers quickly identify what products and brands are meeting certain standards.

  • An example used in the webinar was the ENERGY STAR symbol, which consumers have come to trust when they see it on various home appliances.

The Bottom Line:

The fashion industry has been overwhelmed with an influx of sustainability data in the last couple of years. Unfortunately, there is no regulatory body or system to organize, process, and verify that data. Now, leaders in the data processing field are coming together to discuss solutions.

Keep Reading:

About: Higg Co (Higg)

About: Cotton Incorporated (Cotton Inc.)