Tracking Accountability

Patagonia is a globally sourced, high quality clothing company that has developed a system called The Footprint Chronicles® for tracking the production process of each of their products from design through distribution and calculating the energy consumed, distance traveled, carbon dioxide emissions, waste generated and water consumed per product. According to the company’s website, “The goal is to use transparency about our supply chain to help us reduce our adverse social and environmental impacts – and on an industrial scale.”1 The company has used the opportunity to track these things not only to become more conscious of their impact and try to do something about it, but to share this information with consumers and other manufacturers to raise awareness and inspire others to follow their example.

Screen shot of the Footprint Chronicle of Patagonia’s Stretch Ascent Jacket.

While Patagonia has a long way to go before being zero-waste and carbon neutral I believe their efforts offer a great starting point. Nothing changes unless first the problem is identified and second someone says, how can we make it better? I believe that William Duncan was correct in his assessment that, “…the single most important material used by future manufacturers will be data.” The opportunity for self-awareness and self-motivated efforts with new tracking technologies is incredible but, as Ben Packard, VP of Global Responsibility for Starbucks Coffee Co., indicates in the video “What Comes Next?” produced by Patagonia, a single company cannot be regenerative on its own.2 Every company that supplies that company also has to be regenerative for the system to truly start having a positive environmental impact.

The fact that it will take a unified global effort to effect change in environmental impact is nothing new; however, the idea raises some important questions. How does the technology gap affect the ability of certain companies to track and better manage waste and production cycles? Will/How does government regulation utilize tracking systems and production data to hold companies responsible or set higher standards for production? How are international production chains governed? Who decides what is important, what is possible and what is necessary to effect change?

  3. Check out Patagonia’s tracking system, The Footprint Chronicles® and discover the stories behind their products!

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