More and more brands are joining the sustainable fashion movement, as consumers are becoming ever more aware of the environmental impact of apparel. In order to reduce their impact, it is crucial for brands to look into their product design and supply chains, and find opportunities to cut carbon emissions, decrease pollution and waste, and reduce water footprint. This can be achieved by:
- Making use of organic, recycled and innovative fibre and materials
- Reusing, repurposing and upcycling unsold or unused garments
- Optimizing logistics for distribution and transport
- Transitioning to renewable energy in garment production or material processing
- Adopting emerging innovations and technologies such as digital sampling, alternative textiles, circular model, re-commerce, etc.
Indeed, the fashion industry is witnessing the growth of sustainable brands and products, and sustainability initiatives. At the same time, a surge of climate claims and greenwashing is making it difficult for consumers to differentiate between good environmental practices and misleading statements. As a result, consumers are increasingly demanding for brands to disclose and openly share information and details about how their garments are made.
In fact, many brands are not disclosing information on their environmental footprint. Fashion Revolution’s transparency index report reveals a lack of transparency among 250 of the world’s largest fashion brands and retailers, of which only a small percentage share information on the social and environmental impacts of their supply chains. The reality is, sustainability progress in fashion must be warranted with transparency.
Most importantly, one needs to know where they stand to be able to move forward. Measuring the progress of your sustainability initiatives and efforts helps you understand what has been achieved in your sustainability strategy, enabling you to figure out how much you still need to do and how much more you can do. If you are wondering how much positive impacts your sustainable garments have, how to improve resource efficiency of your supply chains or even what impact reduction goals your brand should have, a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) can definitely help you answer these questions and give valuable insights into your supply chains. Performing an LCA means generating accurate environmental data on your products and supply chains, ensuring your sustainability claims are bullet-proof.
To learn more about LCA, check out our blog “Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) explained” here. To fully understand the value and advantages of LCAs, look no further because we’ve got you covered.
What are the benefits of life cycle assessment?
1. An LCA study is the quantitative basis for your sustainability strategy and helps you make tactical sustainability decisions
LCAs measure the amount of raw materials, energy and water consumed as well as carbon and waste generated in the manufacturing of your textiles and garment production. Through this holistic view, you will be able to identify where in the life cycle of your apparel product is the most resource-, energy- and impact-intensive. This helps you uncover the hotspots for product design to make improvement, for sourcing to look for alternatives, and for management to evaluate the needs to make changes in your operations or supply chains. In addition, an LCA study can support you to establish and optimize your sustainability goals such as carbon reduction and energy efficiency.
2. LCA results offer you great insights to innovate with intention
Evaluating the supply chains of your materials helps you discover which materials have the highest potential to make a positive environmental impact. For products with a blend combination of several materials, an LCA study allows you to compare and test out alternatives. Especially when it comes to special fibers, LCA results give you a science-based foundation to improve the production processes of alternative fibers. It is also an incentive for you to reach out to your suppliers and work together with them on R&D to increase the environmental benefits of your innovation.
3. An LCA provides you with credible data to justify your sustainable claims
As more and more regulations arise to combat greenwashing, you need credible environmental data to substantiate the external claims you make about your products being sustainable. Accounting for energy and emissions along the life cycle of a product is necessary to determine if it is truly environmentally sustainable. Environmental data based on an LCA study not only validates and strengthens your sustainability credentials; it also garners credibility with your stakeholders and customers.
4. An LCA enhances your brand value and gives you a competitive advantage in the fashion industry
Performing an LCA shows that your brand has the authenticity, integrity and credibility in the world of sustainable fashion. Data-driven transparency sets you apart from other brands. LCA gives you bullet-proof supply chain data to communicate the positive environmental attributes of your products, elevating your product pitch to retailers and building trust.
A great exemplary story from sustainable swimwear brand Vitamin A has really inspired the sustainable fashion community, especially in the swimwear market. In our talk with sustainable fashion pioneer brands last year, Amhalia Stevens, founder of Vitamin A, explained the decision to quantify their product’s impact was “filling a void in the swimwear market.” Vitamin A’s swimwear uses a fabric that was created by them, using recycled nylon fibers, which makes their LCA study unique. By creating a sustainable product backed by an LCA, Vitamin A paved the way for other swimwear brands and suppliers to start considering their environmental impact.
5. An LCA enables you to forge collaborative relationships with your suppliers and partners
LCA studies require collaboration between brands and suppliers. In order to conduct an LCA, brands need several inputs from each phase of their supply chains. Gathering this data can be difficult without strong relationships with your suppliers. However, undergoing this process with suppliers can help strengthen the relationship and foster a partnership. Most importantly, LCA studies as such help push for greater transparency of supply chains in the fashion industry.
6. An LCA allows for more meaningful connection with your consumers
LCA studies help brands educate internally about supply chains and product sustainability from a life cycle perspective. This gives your marketing and PR team science-based information to communicate your sustainability progress. LCA can be used to create green storytelling about the positive impacts your products make and help communicate your sustainability achievements to consumers and retailers as well. It adds transparency to your brand value while building trust with your consumers and stakeholders. Giving the consumers concrete data to see why your products are environmentally friendly also helps them see why they are making the right choice.
What are the challenges in a LCA study?
Clearly, life cycle assessment is an essential tool for product sustainability, providing extensive insights and valuable data to everyone in the organization, from product design and R&D, to sourcing and supply chain management and to marketing and PR. It also brings sustainability opportunities to strategic management. However, conducting an LCA study can be a challenging endeavor.
As said in Life cycle assessment (LCA) explained, apparel supply chains are rather complex. For many brands, most products are manufactured in various factories across the globe with a diversified portfolio of fabrics and fibers. To gather data in preparation for an LCA study, brands have to involve all suppliers in the supply chains in order to quantify the environmental input and output of their production processes. This can be time- and resource- consuming. Innovative or alternative materials usually have their own unique manufacturing processes, which are oftentimes proprietary technology. Collecting data on such fibers can cost extra time and effort.
So, what happens when data is missing from your supply chain? For BAM Bamboo Clothing, who partnered up with Green Story, they could rely on Green Story’s database to fill in their data gaps. Merryn Chilcott, Sustainability & Technical Manager of BAM, explained in our talk about supply chain impact data, “Green Story has access to the kind of data that we would never have access to, or it would take us years to get access to. Having this partnership has been so helpful in creating an accurate LCA.”
Besides the challenge of data availability, data quality is another important factor in ensuring the accuracy of your LCA results. LCA research aims for a high degree of accuracy. Several steps are crucial for data quality, including collecting the required data, having the data audited by a third-party, reviewing and verifying the LCA results. However, once critical LCAs have been conducted for a variety of garments, the data, impacts and interpretations can serve as templates for similar products.
Going through an LCA study is a great accomplishment and the results are valuable information that can be shared within the entire organization. Most importantly, it can be shared with your customers and consumers to communicate your positive impacts. But, it is not easy to communicate the results of an LCA study. Following the requirements and guidelines (ISO 14044) helps you structure the LCA report and gives you guidance on the result reviewing and reporting. The challenge lies in the communication of a lengthy scientific report to your intended audience. It is therefore important to break down your LCA results and translate your sustainability data into relatable and easy-to-understand impact metrics.
Green Story has helped 150+ brands gain accurate life cycle analysis data of their products and guided them through LCA studies. Besides life cycle assessment, our Know your Impact solution visualizes brands’ impact with relatable metrics and shows their audience the positive impact they make when choosing sustainable products. Interested to get started on LCA with Green Story? Get in touch with us here!
In our next LCA blog, we will speak with our senior LCA analyst Dr. Karpagam Subramanian about the challenges of conducting an LCA for apparel. In addition, Dr. Karpagam Subramanian will share useful tips on tackling these challenges as well as her experience of working with brands like PANGAIA, thredUP and BAM Bamboo Clothing, on LCA studies. Stay tuned for the third blog of our LCA series!