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Smart Technology For Supply Chain Carbon Neutrality


What emerging and existing technologies have been used to ensure firms in the supply chain are reducing their carbon footprint and taking CSR seriously? Asks Michael Hu, Director of Digitalization, Apparel at Avery Dennison RBIS.

Innovations helping the fashion industry cut carbon from the global supply chain include the rise of cleaner processes and technologies in fabric manufacturing and dyeing, solar powered factories, AI and data mining for more efficient forecasting and planning, biodegradable packaging and the growth of industrial recycling plants, to name a few. It’s vitally important that manufacturers and retailers adopt smart technology to enable traceability at the garment level. This will provide everyone from consumers to recyclers with vital information about responsible and sustainable sourcing, how to extend the item’s life, and how to dispose of it responsibly. At Avery Dennison, we believe giving every garment a digital ID coupled with QR codes on labels and packaging, and RFID tags used in the supply chain, when linked to apps, open up a world of possibility for promoting and measuring circularity and wider CSR issues in fashion.

Across the apparel industry, we are seeing a bigger commitment to making changes toward carbon-neutrality since COP26, but we now need to turn those promises into actions. Unfortunately, there is not yet a full-scale commitment to being carbon neutral or aiming for zero waste. New legislation is on the horizon, which demonstrates governments’ dedication to enforcing change in order to reduce the risk to our planet. These new laws will propel transparency across the supply chain, with the ultimate goal of reducing waste, which has a direct and detrimental impact on the climate.

Data will power the change 

Platitudes about ‘green fabrics’ or ‘carbon-cutting initiatives’ won’t appease today’s clued-up consumers and highly-informed investors. Some brands have rightly been accused of greenwashing, when making hollow claims around sustainability. Verified facts and figures are the order of the day. Data has a critical role to play in helping fashion brands and retailers communicate to their customers properly and effectively, and it is essential in achieving carbon neutrality and a circular supply chain. Currently, many brands don’t often provide the data required to achieve the next step in a garment’s life without sending it to landfill. Therefore, in order to decrease the wastage, and ensure supply chains are carbon-neutral, data is essential to provide the linkage all the way along the supply chain.

Technology in the form of data also becomes hugely valuable in generating insights and analytics that can help drive business decisions and intelligence. With data, it’s possible to track the flow of a product through the supply chain, from how an item is produced, what it contains, where it has been in the logistics network, through to the point of sale, retail, post-purchase, and then driving into circularity, so providing total visibility of a product. Data insights can also enable optimizations that further drive positive environmental impact.

Removing the waste using Digital Triggers (RFID and QR codes)

Once it’s accepted that data is the key to bringing circularity to life in the fashion supply chain, we must find ways to embed Digital Triggers into the inventory so that a world of information-driven benefits can be realised. RFID is really driving efficiency across the supply chain. This technology has increased transparency and visibility within supply chains, improving the overall situation. Avery Dennison is the world’s largest Ultra-High Frequency (UHF) RFID partner, offering various solutions to many industries to try to improve inventory management and prevent losses. 

Limiting and tightening supply chain operations becomes possible. RFID technology and digital tracking of products can help ensure a business does not over-manufacture. Instead, a business only produces what is needed, which will dramatically reduce waste, and therefore address the overall carbon impact of the supply chain. This is being taken advantage of by businesses a lot more now, but additional action is still needed.

Meanwhile, QR codes on garment care labels give consumers additional information about the garment. Research conducted by Avery Dennison last year reveals that 44% of fashion buyers in the U.S, UK, France, Germany, and China want digital experiences in-store, such as the ability to scan a QR code to get access to more product information. Global shoppers are massively drawn to digital tools that will make life easier for them, and the pandemic really ramped this up, due to necessity. Avery Dennison research found that 74% of Chinese fashion buyers are more comfortable using QR codes since the start of the pandemic, with 42% of US fashion buyers, and 38% of European fashion buyers, feeling that way too. This technology can play a big part in improving supply chains, as well as waste and carbon reduction.

Ultimately, QR codes can help garments have a second or third life. Avery Dennison’s collaboration with UpWest and ReCircled (https://rbis.averydennison.com/en/home/care-to-be-the-change.html) in October 2021 involved reworking excess jumpers into mittens and dog blankets. Thanks to these intelligent care labels, garments now have a digital passport that provides detail on how the garment was manufactured and the materials it contains, while also providing a ‘digital launching point’ for brands to extend their relationship with their customers.

It is clear that emerging and existing technologies, including RFID and QR codes, are becoming increasingly powerful within the apparel industry, as brands seek out ways to cut carbon from their supply chains and tackle textile waste. 

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