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Google Cloud and Stella McCartney unveil supply chain sustainability initiative

Google Cloud – in conjunction with fashion brand Stella McCartney – has today (15 May) announced a new data-led sustainability initiative that aims to drive environmental improvements across the fashion supply chain.

Google has embarked on building a tool that uses data analytics and machine learning to give brands a more comprehensive view into their supply chain, particularly at the level of raw material production – or Tier 4 of the supply chain, as it is known in the industry.

This focus will allow Stella McCartney, initially, to better assess the impact on the environment of the raw materials it uses in production process.

Cotton and viscose are the two first areas of focus, each chosen due to the scale of their production, data availability and impact considerations, according to Google.

Nick Martin, head of retail at Google Cloud, said: “More specifically, cotton accounts for 25% of all fibres used by the fashion industry, with a notable impact on water and pesticide use.

“Viscose production is smaller but growing in demand, and has links to the destruction of forests – some endangered – which are critical in mitigating carbon emissions. This pilot will enable us to test the effectiveness of the tool on these different raw materials, building out the possibilities for expansion into a wider variety of key textiles in the market down the line.”

Announcing the initiative at the Copenhagen Fashion Summit, one of the fashion industry's key sustainability events on the calendar, Google said it wants to provide data sources that assess raw materials’ impact on air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, land use and water scarcity.

“Our goal is not only to be able to determine the impact of producing these raw materials, but also compare the impacts of these in different regions where they are produced,” added Martin.

Much of the impact fashion has in terms of waste water and carbon emissions occurs at the raw material stage, and Google said it is an area where they “have little to no visibility”. It acknowledged many brands have driven efforts to collect and surface data that can lead to better sourcing decisions, but said gaps in the data continue to persist due to its “complexity and global nature”.

The decision for Google Cloud to get involved followed its work with Current Global, an innovation consultancy that empowers fashion brands to reach their sustainability goals through the use of relevant technologies.

Stella McCartney commented: “At Stella McCartney we have been continuously focusing on looking at responsible and sustainable ways to conduct ourselves in fashion, it is at the heart of what we do.

“We are trying our best – we aren’t perfect, but we are opening a conversation that hasn’t really been had in the history of fashion.”

By working with additional fashion brands, experts, NGOs and industry bodies, Google said that it has an ambition to create “an open industry-wide tool”. It wants to work with industry players, large and small, to help bring the platform to life.