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In Part 1 we talked about why we need to start taking sustainability seriously and how technologies like Blockchain can help. In Part 2 we will dive a bit deeper into companies who are using Blockchain, and the platforms which make it straightforward to apply.
Blockchain is a data system which can be used by companies of any size, but like all innovations the more uptake there is, the more affordable and accessible it will eventually become due to the trickle-down effect. That’s why the announcement that LVMH has just launched a blockchain project they have been working on for three years is welcome. The technology, which is called AURA, was developed along with software companies ConsenSys and Microsoft. It will be initially implemented on LMVH brands Louis Vuitton and Parfums Christian Dior.
As with any Blockchain platform, the use of AURA means that customers will find it easy to trace all the stages of the product from design through raw materials, manufacturing and distribution which is perfect for checking on sustainability claims. As well as this, product care labels and warranties are available to view.
AURA belongs to the LMVH stable, but Blockchain platforms need not be exclusive. Arianee is a wallet app for your phone. The company works in conjunction with a number of luxury goods designers to use Blockchain technology to tag your valuable goods. An independent organisation, they are working towards a global standard of digital certification through collaborating with so many globally impactful brands. This “tag” which stores information about the product can be used to show its life journey, from raw materials onwards. If the owner chooses to sell their luxury object, Arianee also proves authenticity along with providing all the original information to the new owners. The sale will act as another entry into the log and the product’s lifecycle is continued.
Provenance is a platform which is designed to make Blockchain technology straightforward to use by businesses. Their interface is based on a series of linked “claims” that you, as a business, might want to slot your product into. For example, a fashion business would perhaps want to fill in the “Social Impact”, “Environmental Impact”, “Animal Welfare” and “Safety and Quality” claims. They then provide a short statement on how their product affects each area.
Provenance founder and CEO Jessi Baker explains the benefits:
“As an open, incorruptible data system, Blockchain empowers every actor in the supply chain, fostering greater equality all along the chain and allowing data to flow seamlessly from producer through to the shopper. This radical transparency means that shoppers will gain access to trustworthy data direct from the product – online or in-store – to discover where their clothes came from and who made them.
“Particularly with younger shoppers, transparency is the expectation. We’re enabling that connection by leveraging our technology to bring the information to the customer in a way that’s trusted and independent from a brand’s marketing. Through our work with Martine Jarlgaard and others, we have seen how the Provenance platform can help fashion brands engage shoppers with this open, honest information.”
Martine Jarlgaard is a designer who describes herself as working at “the intersection of sustainability, technology, fashion and art”. She was the first designer to explore how Blockchain could enable supply chain transparency, a pilot which was showcased at the Copenhagen Fashion Summit in May 2017.
In Jarlgaard’s case, Provenance was used to track the journey of a knitted garment. Under “Animal Welfare” each stage from shearing the fleece in the farm, through to which company spun it, who knitted it and then finishing in the designer’s London studio was recorded. Incorruptible location mapping and timestamps provided proof of the exact time, date and place. This digital history was recorded in a small chip which was sewn to the label of the garment.
Attaching Blockchain access information to a clothing label makes sense – but what about when the label is removed? Winners of the 2018 H&M’s annual Global Change Award prize, EON ID have developed an RFID thread containing Blockchain information which can be embedded in the fabric of the garment itself. This means that when that garment is discarded, its components can be recycled, and manufacturers will still know its history. Now that’s second-level.
So, it sounds like Blockchain is now easy to use, with several options on the tech side and numerous benefits. Does this make it the new environmental hero, fulfilling earth-conscious consumer’s demands? Maybe, maybe not.
In the end, it depends on the fashion company to actually use the technology. Many solutions for a greener fashion industry have been proposed, taken up with gleeful promotion by companies and later quietly dropped or found to be applied to such a small percentage of a company’s output that the net effect is trifling.
It is definitely an effective part of the sustainability toolkit if used correctly. However, clothing companies need to rely on suppliers inputting information as agreed. Another issue is cost. While LMVH have spent millions of pounds and three years on developing their own platform, so are now incentivised to use it, companies like Provenance use a subscription service, which small businesses may not be able to afford or may lose interest in paying for long-term. Tied up with both of these are time – will companies continue to spend the extra time on inputting the information or managing their suppliers to ensure that they do so?
Perhaps they need another incentive beyond the pure-hearted “It’s good for the planet.” LVMH is open in pointing out that AURA will help to prove a product’s authenticity, which in turn should eliminate counterfeit products that damage the company’s bottom line. This is great for luxury products, but what’s the incentive for fast fashion, who are notorious for cutting corners to produce that £2.99 t-shirt?
And how green is computer and internet technology anyway? Shifting all the information to the cloud instead of storing it on bits of paper made from chopped down trees has long been accepted as the superior option, but in fact, the data centres which contain it can be the size of a small city and use vast amounts of electricity, in return emitting heat and CO2.
Finally, an unforeseen effect on showing the customers the data behind the product is that they may actually not want to know. Everybody realises where leather comes from originally, but a company who traced all the steps on the production of a leather key fob left customers horrified and the company abandoning the transparency experiment. Sometimes, customers prefer not to think too hard about these things.
So what do you think? Is Blockchain the new saviour of sustainability or just the latest greenwashing gimmick? Let us know in the comments below.