Digital Product Passports for textiles: What businesses should know

Lars Rensing, CEO of Protokol, speaks on the need to embrace Digital Product Passports for textiles, to increase circularity within the fashion industry

Digital product passports for textilesMore than ever, customers have a watchful eye on the businesses they buy from and their sustainability initiatives. Fashion businesses, and by extension, the textiles industry, are often in the spotlight for the role they play in generating waste. With COP28 around the corner, businesses face increasing pressure to clean up their operations.

To reach global net zero emissions by 2050, and limit global temperature rise to 1.5C, businesses, governments and individuals must start making decisions carefully to mitigate their impact on the planet.

The textile and garment industry is regularly cited as one of the worst offenders for overlooking sustainability and creating waste. It releases 1.2 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide per year, more than the shipping and aviation industry combined, and accounts for approximately 10 per cent of global carbon emissions and is the third largest industrial polluter in the world, after oil and agriculture. On top of that, it is estimated that 92 million tonnes of textile waste is generated annually on a global scale. At the current pace, that number is expected to grow to 134 million tonnes by 2030.

All this, and still 50 per cent of the world’s largest fashion brands disclose little or no information about their supply chain, leaving consumers in the dark about the textiles used to create their clothing.

With more and more consumers consciously choosing to shop sustainably as awareness grows of the footprint of fast fashion, some fashion companies have started changing their unsustainable practices. Legislation is also catching up – by 2030, across Europe there will be a mandatory solution to the lack of transparency surrounding product lifecycles: Digital Product Passports (DPPs).

What are Digital Product Passports for textiles?

A DPP is a tool that will enable businesses to collect and share information regarding a product and its lifecycle. It is a digital record of a product’s history, which can contain information such as the raw materials used in its creation, its journey through the supply chain, its various ownerships, service, repair, warranty records and more. The information is added to the product’s DPP throughout its lifecycle and can be accessed by relevant stakeholders. 

DPPs are a vital part of the European Commission’s Circular Economy Action Plan, with further details on requirements set out in its forthcoming Ecodesign for Sustainable Products Regulation. These will facilitate a process and tool for recording information on how garments are sourced, manufactured, sold and recycled within Europe going forward.

The use of DPPs will be mandatory within the EU market for the industrial and EV battery sector as soon as 2027, followed by textiles and other industries in 2030.

The introduction of DPPs in the fashion industry could bring fantastic positive change, as garment supply chains and product lifecycles are often associated with a lack of transparency, particularly in terms of sustainability. DPPs can change this, as they can highlight the sustainability, environmental and recyclability attributes of a product, as well as its manufacturing process and sourcing. Stakeholders can then make informed decisions about whether a garment is produced sustainably or not.

How do you use Digital Product Passports?

DPPs can be cloud or blockchain-based. However, even a cloud-based DPP is worth mirroring on blockchain, which by nature is decentralised, secure, immutable and easily accessed by the end user. This means that businesses or relevant stakeholders cannot tamper with the data retroactively without it being clear that an edit has been made, ensuring the highest standards of data validity are maintained throughout a product’s lifecycle.

It’s not just internal stakeholders that could have access to the information stored in a DPP.  In some DPP solutions the end customer can scan a QR code attached to the product to access information stored in the DPP. Information such as general information, manufacturing facility, types of materials used and their origins, as well as the product’s carbon footprint and its various past owners. It could also include information on past repairs, repairability and recycling processes, to facilitate a more circular economy past the point of purchase.

Fashion brands and their use of DPPs

Despite the 2030 DPP deadline for the textiles industry, some well-known fashion brands are already beginning to embrace them. Established names including Loro Piana, Nobody’s Child, Burberry and Stella McCartney have gotten ahead of the curve by announcing DPP trial programs for their goods. Even universally known fast-fashion brands such as H&M are beginning to explore the use of DPPs under their sub-brand Arket.

It’s comforting that some companies are getting started early, as implementing DPPs requires a good level of preparation. Businesses will need time for strategic and well-executed implementation, from planning and testing internally to ensuring interoperability with suppliers’ ecosystems at rollout.

However, as often is the case with new technology, the preparation and implementation of DPPs do not come without challenges. Businesses will need to prepare with plenty of time before the regulation is enforced, so they can ensure compliance and become comfortable with the technology before it is mandatory.  But with sufficient preparation, the task of  collecting, presenting and updating all the required DPP information will become a regular part of operation.

By starting now, businesses can take a measured approach to transforming existing supply chain processes and systems to ensure information for the DPP is collected appropriately, before the 2030 deadline.

Working in partnerships with DPP solutions providers can also provide reassurance that considerations around compliance and interoperability are well thought through, to protect businesses and bring the maximum benefit to consumers.

For consumers, DPPs will aid in the complex task of making informed purchasing decisions and give them peace of mind when shopping with a sustainable conscience. It will be harder for companies to greenwash.  For businesses, DPPs can help maintain loyal customers and instil trust. They can also benefit from new revenue streams and business practices facilitated by DPPs, such as data on customer behaviour, opportunities to participate in the resale market, as well as gaining the ability to validate their own green claims.

Tackling climate change and reducing unsustainable waste are some of our planet’s greatest challenges. As we become more aware of the need to greatly reduce our impact on Earth’s resources, and the downsides of fast-fashion companies are being more and more widely documented, DPPs signify a welcome change. Businesses should and must embrace DPPs with open arms, even if the regulation isn’t finalised yet. Despite the hurdles, one thing is certain: DPPs represent a new way to manage supply chain transparency, provide information on product lifecycles and sustainability claims, and give more opportunities to the consumer to make conscious buying choices. 

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