Interview: Google’s Maria McClay on Their New Partnership With WWF Sweden
Stores are opening again here in the UK this week (still too early, but capitalism gonna capitalism) and there is, one hopes, a renewed focus on sustainable production across the industry.
Thing is, it can be very difficult for companies to trace the provenance of raw materials, since supply chains are fragmented across the globe.
Environmental watchdogs estimate that 20% of wastewater is created by the fashion industry today, along with up to 8% of greenhouse gas emissions. Basically, it’s really worth working to improve this situation.
Brands like Swedish menswear retailer ASKET (also the creator of the hi, tech. staple wardrobe) put a ‘traceability’ score on the labels of each garment. In spite of their efforts, the score is typically quite a distance below 100%.
No individual retailer can solve this one, however well-intentioned.
So, it certainly piqued my interest to see that Google is partnering with the World Wildlife Fund Sweden to create a platform that will give retailers a more transparent view of their supply chains.
Google began an initial pilot with Stella McCartney in 2019 and the latter will be the first brand to use the new platform. Meanwhile, WWF Sweden has worked with IKEA in the past to analyze the raw materials used by those flat-pack trailblazers.
You certainly hear enough from me in this pages, so I thought we should get a real expert to provide some insight into the partnership.
I’m delighted to say that Maria McClay, Google’s Senior Industry Head of Luxury, very kindly agreed to answer our questions.
Hope you enjoy the interview!
First up, please can you let us know about your role at Google?
I lead a team that partners with some of the largest global luxury fashion brands to grow their revenues and build their brands, by bringing the best of Google to them.
You have announced a very exciting new partnership with WWF Sweden.
Can you tell us a bit about this new arrangement? What challenges are you aiming to solve together?
Our ambition is to create a global platform bringing together Google Cloud’s technical capacity, Google Earth Engine data and WWF Sweden’s proprietary data, analysis framework and experience when assessing sourcing risk and mitigation factors. The resulting platform will enable fashion brands to make more informed decisions around where they source their raw materials, and help partner with communities to put in place more sustainable practices.
“The partnership with WWF is one of those inputs and collaborations that has fundamentally changed what we are able to achieve, making the platform more powerful than we initially envisioned.”
We originally announced this initiative with Stella McCartney at last year’s Copenhagen Fashion Summit where we shared our ambitions for the platform to solicit partnerships and collaboration on the project.
The response was overwhelmingly positive, and we never could have anticipated the variety and number of players who reached out to help support.
Both Google and WWF were working on projects with the aim to provide brands with a more comprehensive view into their supply chain, it made sense to combine our work to make something better and more powerful.
Through discussions we learned that our projects were complementary and could be enhanced greatly by joining forces; the result being much more powerful than our individual efforts.
That is what the announcement is about. It is a complementary partnership, WWF brings additional expertise and industry knowledge, Google brings the tech and engineering resources. For WWF, the collaboration with Google allows us to include sub-national and more rapidly updated data in order to provide brands with a more comprehensive view into their supply chain.
What role will Google play in bringing accuracy to environmental reporting?
The partnership will further the development of the platform for the fashion raw materials supply chain, enabling analysis of detailed impacts and risks at a scale not seen before in the industry. This will include leveraging detailed data in a way that has not been attempted before — helping to increase the accuracy and relevance of raw materials assessments.
“The outcome will mean greater visibility of supply chain impacts and risks, filling fundamental data gaps in the industry.”
We originally announced that the platform would use Google’s proprietary data and third party data including information from industry partners, brands and manufacturers. In addition to this, the WWF brings its proprietary data sources and normalised third party data, analysis framework and wealth of experience when assessing sourcing risk and mitigation factors.
To give an example, our ambition was to analyze 2 materials first (cotton & viscose) — this partnership will allow us the potential to look at over 20 variations, incorporating wool, polyester, nylon, hemp and more. The outcome will mean greater visibility of supply chain impacts and risks, filling fundamental data gaps in the industry.
How will retailers out there be able to access the data platform?
What data can they access, and who has visibility over any data they might share on the platform?
Brands will be able to use the platform to help them benchmark their existing supply chain and understand what improvements they can make to enable more sustainable sourcing.
For example, what is the environmental outcome for each fibre and location type on different impact areas (air pollution, waste, Greenhouse Gas emissions) and what actions can brands take to address the environmental challenges of each raw material. In terms of visibility, data shared by the brands will be anonymized and won’t be available outside of the organisation that uploads it.