Traceability is fast becoming a regulatory reality in many industries, from construction to battery manufacturing, in an effort to increase sustainability and circularity, trace source materials, close material recycling loops, and formalise material end-of-life management over time.
The EU Strategy for Sustainable and Circular Textiles calls for Digital Product Passports (DPPs) to be mandatory on textiles sold in Europe by 2030 to encourage sustainable production, enable the transition to a circular economy, and help consumers make more sustainable choices.
In Stockholm, the Trace4Value project brings together partners from several industries to tackle the complex challenge of sustainable system transformation and the shift to climate-neutral and circular production.
One of the participants is TrusTrace, a global SaaS company with a market-leading platform for product traceability and compliance, which is piloting a solution for a DPP to enable sustainability through transparency.
I spoke to Shameek Ghosh, co-founder and CEO of TrusTrace, to learn more. He explained:
“Our goal is to effectively test how a DPP can function in practice – and prepare for future implementation.”
The partners working on the DPP project include TrusTrace, Marimekko, Kappahl, Elis, SIS Swedish Institute for Standards, GS1 Sweden, TEXroad Foundation, Circularista, 2bPolicy, Trimco Group, Rudholm and Haak and Aalto University.
The broader Trace4Value project covers more than 65 partners, focusing on traceability and data-sharing across various industries.
How a digital passport works
The Trace4Value DPP will be tested by tagging selected Kappahl and Marimekko pilot products in production with an ID carrier on the products that store prioritised supply chain and transparency data.
Then, through a QR code, product information can be accessed instantly using a mobile device. The DPP will be based on current global standards to ensure interoperability and seamless information sharing with all stakeholders in the value chain.
The pilot project lays a foundation for standard setting and enables companies to better grasp what the DPP will entail.
We’ve seen a lot of emphasis on circularity, particularly regarding giving materials a second life. Ghosh believes that, for example, “second-hand clothing has gone from niche to desirable, especially among younger consumers."
"But it’s also about the willingness to test and learn, with many startups and pilot projects happening across the circularity space, in terms of not only second-hand or vintage, but also renting and subscriptions, remakes, repairs and recycling schemes, and much more focus on sustainable design, durability and sustainable materials.”
The need for data insights to assess the value of circularity
However, the challenge is measuring the efficacy of circularity efforts, with Ghosh admitting, “there is not a lot of data on hand to fully understand the impact of the different schemes in a comparable way, so the focus now is really on just testing things out and generating those learnings and insights."
In addition to developing the consumer-facing interface that provides product data, TrusTrace has, in collaboration with the partners, developed a data protocol that effectively prioritises information for the DPP based on supply chain data and legislation.
Data will include a Global Trade Identification Number, relevant commodity codes, compliance documents, substances of concern, information about the manufacturer, and more.
“There are no standard data protocols for this regulation yet, so we have developed a data protocol designed to be flexible to ensure we can adapt to all the changes coming in the future.”
Understanding the practicalities of circularity
TrusTrace is also currently undertaking circular-product lifecycle management with a customer to understand how circular flows would work practically and commercially, by documenting store clothes take-back. For example, “what needs just a wash or repair and can be resold, and what needs recycling.”
The repair data helps inform where styles fail from a durability perspective, which can be fed back into the design process, and the cost of repair and redistribution can inform price points.
“Enough data is critical to understand how to make the circular model commercially viable, which is key for circularity to become the dominant business model vs. today’s linear approach.”
Ghosh explained that preparing for digital product passports ultimately also requires “the ability to link specific data to each product, sorting that data and presenting what’s relevant for a consumer to see, as sharing everything will make it difficult to consume and will not be helpful.”
How do we keep sustainable fashion affordable?
I’m always curious about the financial side of sustainable fashion as many green brands command higher prices, which may be out of the reach of most people. Gosh asserts that there’s a fundamental need for all companies to change their business model fundamentally:
“92 million tons of textile waste is created annually, and a shocking percent of clothes produced for each season are unsold.
Think about that. Think about the resources and costs that go into producing stuff that never sees the light of day, and often gets burned or sent to landfill, given it’s easier or cheaper than recycling.
If fashion brands can find ways to eliminate waste, which also includes changing consumer behaviour.
It’s currently the status quo to order ten+ items from an ecommerce site to your home knowing you’re going to send back more than half, leading to both unnecessary transport and the overproduction we’re trying to avoid, as companies need to keep extra stock for the thousands or millions of clothes items shipped back and forth."
Companies who fail to meet these requirements may be forced to take their business elsewhere, as consumer sentiment or regulations will no longer enable them to sell in markets such as North America and the EU.
The Trace4Value project is managed by the RISE Research Institute of Sweden and funded by Vinnova and the partner organisations.
Lead image: TrusTrace.