Measuring Sustainability: Data Metrics for Fashion Brands


The fashion industry is notorious for its environmental footprint. According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, fashion production contributes to 10% of global carbon emissions and consumes more energy than aviation and shipping combined. However, many fashion brands are setting ambitious sustainability goals to correct the industry’s historical negligence. To ensure transparency and progress towards these goals, fashion brands need to measure sustainability using smart data metrics. This proposes a new challenge: Which data metrics should fashion brands use to accurately quantify sustainability and make better decisions?

The Key Data Metrics in Measuring Sustainability

Measuring sustainability encompasses three main factors: environmental impact, social impact, and economic performance. When it comes to environmental impact, fashion brands should measure their water consumption, energy use, waste production, carbon emissions and the lifecycle of their products, from raw material sourcing, production, usage, to disposal. For social metrics, brands need to track aspects regarding working conditions, health and labor rights and community involvement. Economic metrics can include investment in sustainable practices and technology, contribution to the economy, and job creation.

Data platforms such as the Higg Index, developed by the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, can provide comprehensive metrics for brands to measure their environmental and social impact. They rate brands according to resource usage, emissions, and labor practices, providing a holistic view of a company’s sustainability efforts.

Avoiding Greenwashing Through Objective Metrics

Consumer skepticism about sustainability claims has grown in recent years due to greenwashing. Many fashion companies have made broad sustainability pledges without providing clear and quantifiable data about their practices. To avoid this, brands should adopt objective metrics that provide quantitative information about their sustainability efforts.

For instance, in 2020, French luxury brand Gucci launched an impact report supported by data from the environmental Profit and Loss (EP&L) account. EP&L is a tool that measures the environmental impacts of a company’s activities and monetises them. This provides brands with a clear and comparable metric to track their progress towards sustainability.

Innovative Data Metrics for Sustainability

Some industry disruptors are leveraging new technologies and data metrics to take sustainability measurements even further. For example, the German start-up Retviews uses a tool that analyses brands’ collections for their use of sustainable fabrics. Their system examines thousands of products to define how many are made from environmentally-friendly fabrics, giving consumers an objective measure of how a brand performs from a product perspective.

Another exciting technology is Blockchain, which promises to bring more transparency to the fashion industry. Brands like Provenance use the technology to provide consumers with detailed information about a product’s journey from field to store.

Case Studies: Examples of Brands Using Data Metrics

Several fashion brands have successfully leveraged these data metrics in measuring their sustainability. One example is Stella McCartney, a fashion brand known for its dedication towards sustainability. Stella McCartney has been at the forefront of using Environmental Profit and Loss (EP&L) accounts to measure the environmental impacts of its supply chain and operations.

Similarly, Everlane, a US-based fashion retailer, is committed to revealing its pricing and covering the true costs of all their products, including labor, materials, transport, duties, and hardware costs. They call this radical transparency. Their website features a detailed overview of the factory where each piece is made, the materials used, and a cost breakdown.

Embracing data metrics for measuring sustainability allows fashion brands to make informative decisions, raise industry standards, and contribute to a more sustainable future. Therefore, it is crucial for brands to adopt comprehensive, objective, and innovative data metrics to substantiate their sustainability efforts and avoid greenwashing.

Ensuring sustainability in the fashion industry is no longer a choice – it’s a necessity. By leveraging rigorous data metrics, fashion brands can transform their operations to be more transparent, responsible, and environmentally conscious.