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Google partners with WWF Sweden to dig even deeper into fashion industry's sustainability habits

Google is doubling down on its efforts to support the fashion industry in cleaning up the environmental friendliness of its supply chains through its partnership with WWF Sweden

Google has unveiled the next phase of its push to assist the fashion industry with improving its sustainability practices, which includes a newly forged partnership with wildlife charity WWF Sweden.

The collaboration will see the pair join forces to create an environmental data platform, designed to enable the fashion industry to make more responsible sourcing decisions when it comes to creating new clothes.

This is in light of figures shared by Google that suggest the fashion industry is responsible for generating anywhere between 2% and 8% of global greenhouse emissions at present, with forecasts suggesting this could increase by 50% in 10 years’ time without urgent intervention.

However, before any corrective action can be taken, the industry needs a greater level of transparency into how resources – including water – are used at every stage of the supply chain, which is a huge undertaking, given the fragmentation of the clothes production process.  

“Our ambition is to fill fundamental data gaps by bringing greater accuracy to environmental reporting – ultimately moving toward more sustainable processes,” said Google’s sustainability officer, Kate Brandt.

“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 platform Google and WWF Sweden are working on aims to address this by bringing together insights both parties have gleaned during other projects they have worked on of this nature. For Google Cloud, that includes its technology tie-up with fashion house Stella McCartney, which was announced in May 2019.

That project is ongoing, and has seen the two companies work together on a machine learning-based tool they hope could one day provide the entire fashion industry with better quality data about their supply chains, with particular emphasis on the environmental impact of the community’s cotton and viscose use.

Cotton, in particular, is known to account for around a quarter of all the materials used by the fashion industry, and is linked to high water consumption habits and increased pesticide use during its production, whereas the use of viscose is linked to deforestation.

WWF Sweden, meanwhile, has had a similar partnership in place with furniture brand Ikea, focused on analysing the risk and impact of the various raw materials used to create the products it sells too.

As a result, Google said it intends to progress the work it has done to-date with Stella McCartney by expanding beyond tracking the use of just cotton and viscose with WWF Sweden’s help.

“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,” said Ian Pattison, head of customer engineering within the retail division at Google UK and Ireland.

“Partnering with WWF brings together Google Cloud’s technical capacity, including big data analysis and machine learning, and WWF’s deep knowledge of assessing raw materials. 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, said the partnership with Google is part of its long-term goal to achieve change at the largest possible scale in everything it does.

“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,” Wirtén added.

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