Last month, the Institute of Public & Environmental Affairs (IPE) launched version 3.0 of its Blue Map mobile app. Amongst other functions, the app charts polluting factories in China using real-time emission data, offering promising practical implications for brands’ management of textile supply chains.
Textile manufacturing – especially the dyeing and finishing of fabrics – consumes and discharges massive amounts of water. This is especially true in China, where many factories operate far from optimum efficiency: in fact, textile dyeing and finishing is the country’s third largest source of industrial wastewater discharge. When this wastewater is improperly treated, it contributes to environmental degradation and threatens public health.
Nearly a third of China’s surface water is rated at level IV or worse, deeming it unfit for human contact. Environmental water quality in Chinese hubs for textile manufacturing, such as the Taihu basin, Hangzhou Bay, and Pearl River Delta, is particularly grim.
Brands have a responsibility to ensure that their suppliers are complying with local standards
Although environmental enforcement in China is improving, brands have a responsibility to ensure that their suppliers are complying with local standards and are not exacerbating China’s pollution problems. Innovative advancements in environmental information disclosure in China have established a precedent to provide brands with the tools to proactively supervise supplier performance and effectively targets supply chain environmental management efforts.
The new version of the Blue Map app affords an additional level of engagement based on information transparency, creating a three-way oversight mechanism for consumers to monitor brands’ engagement with suppliers.
Textile brands’ active use of public information has helped suppliers reduce emissions
Since its establishment in 2006, IPE has collected over 240,000 government-issued environmental violation records and collated them into the online China Pollution Map Database. A huge chunk of these records, which are doled out for reasons such as emissions exceeding legal standards or factories lacking proper permits, are for facilities involved in textile production: searching for the keywords “textiles,” “printing and dyeing,” “washing,” and “dyeing and finishing” yields over 10,000 records.
Many mills have struggled to meet the new & more stringent standards …
In particular, many mills have struggled to meet more stringent standards after the ‘Discharge Standards of Water Pollutants for Dyeing and Finishing of Textile Industry (GB 4287-2012)‘ began to be implemented in 2013. Non-compliant fabric mills often receive multiple violation records but continue to pay fines and endure punishments, rather than seek solutions that will allow their wastewater discharge to consistently comply with standards in the long run.
… at least 20 textile brands regularly check their supplier lists against IPE’s cache of violations
In an effort to confront the challenges to compliance arising from such factors as the low cost of violations, in 2012, IPE began engaging with textile industry brands to use the information in IPE’s online database to screen their supply chains for factories with compliance issues. At present, at least 20 textile brands have established a regular mechanism to check their supplier lists against IPE’s cache of violation records.
A cadre of leading brands, including Adidas, Levi’s, Esquel, Wal-Mart and Uniqlo, have made active efforts to transparently work with noncompliant suppliers to identify and implement sustainable solutions. Industry buy-in has been especially important in the textile industry, where many brands’ purchases only account for a small portion of suppliers overall production, but shared suppliers abound.
Specific cases demonstrate that brands’ active use of IPE’s database can help push suppliers to implement corrective actions – one such example in the box below.
|Zhejiang Qingmao Textile Printing & Dyeing Co., Ltd cleans up
After Uniqlo and Marks & Spencer contacted Zhejiang Qingmao Textile Printing & Dyeing Co., Ltd. about its series of violation records, the facility conducted a number of upgrades to its wastewater treatment system, including installing dissolved air flotation equipment and an aniline degradation treatment system, to help its wastewater comply with increasingly stringent discharge standards. The facility verified the effectiveness of its improvements through a supervised Green Choice Alliance (GCA) audit and published detailed information in April in an audit report available on IPE’s site.
New real-time mapping tools provide increased incentive for suppliers to comply and opportunity for brands to showcase their supply chain sustainability
Since the ‘Measures on Self-Monitoring and Information Disclosure for Key State Monitored Enterprises’ went into effect at the beginning of 2014, factories designated for national-level monitoring have been required to disclose their real-time emission data online on provincial platforms. Of the more than 9,000 high-priority facilities designated for air and water monitoring (that together account for around 65% of China’s industrial air and water emissions), at least 400 – over 10% of the total designated for wastewater monitoring – are textile printing and dyeing mills.
IPE’s Blue Map app capatilizes on game-changing real-time emission data
To capitalize on the game-changing potential of this data, since June 2014, IPE has been collating this real-time emissions information for display in map form in the Blue Map app. The brand-new 3.0 version, released in March 2016 for Android (iOS version coming in April), features key updates that facilitate use of this real-time data as a tool to monitor supplier compliance.
Users can access detailed information about facilities’ real-time emissions values and compliance with standards, along with a new graph that charts the past 30 days of emissions’ daily averages in relation to the legal standards. This features allows unprecedented visibility into facilities’ environmental performances over time.
IPE has also developed a beta version of a web-based real-time monitoring map (which will be available in both Chinese and English) and plans to release it later this year. On top of the features included in the app, this version integrates real-time emissions data with information about violation records from IPE’s database, marking those facilities that have received environmental violation records with an icon that links directly to the detailed records. Research by IPE has revealed dramatic improvements in the systematicness of local EPBs’ publication of factories’ self-monitoring data, allowing brands to flag and follow up on pollution issues with greater efficiency.
With the website & app, users can flag enterprises they want to track …
On both the app the website, registered users can flag enterprises they want to track. Updates that show a supplier repeatedly violating emissions standards can indicate potential compliance issues, allowing companies to target environmental management efforts at ‘hot spots’ for maximum impact.
… brands can now bring their supply chain transparency to a whole new level
These real-time mapping tools make it possible for brands to bring their supply chain transparency to a whole new level – potentially by publicly disclosing their relationships with suppliers that are disclosing real-time monitoring data. If brands are ready to walk the talk and demonstrate that their suppliers are meeting or exceeding brands’ stringent environmental standards, this monitoring data presents an opportunity to do so.
At the same time, public mapping incentivizes suppliers to prove to brands that their discharges are in compliance with regulations, or even beyond compliance.
Blue Map app not just for brands, consumers can use too
The new version of the Blue Map also taps into a relatively new audience: consumers. It includes an entire interactive module dedicated to green choice that displays brands’ Corporate Information Transparency Index (CITI) scores and allows users to vote for brands and share information about brands’ environmental performance. The app displays real-time updates about brands’ efforts, updating each time a supplier takes action to address an environmental violation record at the request of one of its customers.
New features for consumers … the app interactively displays the brand’s CITI Index scores
Research indicates that Chinese consumers are willing to pay a premium for green products, giving clout to the idea that consumers can impact brands’ environmental performance through their consumption behaviour. The sharing functions establish a platform for consumers to express their opinions toward both top and bottom performers, creating an additional mechanisms for supervising brands’ green supply chain management.
Policies provide a basis for continued expansion of environmental information disclosure
IPE’s efforts are in line with wider systemic changes at both the policy and industry levels. Those changes render compliance monitoring easier, and increase mid-to-long term risks for brands not paying enough attention to information transparency.
IPE’s research shows that some textile-producing provinces, such as Zhejiang and Jiangsu, are already leaders in environmental information disclosure, setting the stage for brands to start incorporating disclosed information into their supply chain environmental management. Zhejiang’s local list of key monitored enterprises for wastewater alone includes nearly 1000 facilities, at least a third of which are textile-related factories or mills. At the industry level, wide participation in groups such as the Sustainable Apparel Coalition also provides a potential platform for leading brands to dictate industry standards and for common tools, such as the Higg index, to require uptake of publicly available information.
“Real-time monitoring data is a game-changer because the worst offenders can no longer hide & top performers can publicly verify…”
Meanwhile, efforts such as Greenpeace’s DETOX 2020 campaign are driving brands to regularly test suppliers’ wastewater for hazardous substances. For brands that have committed to such efforts, suppliers’ wastewater is also expected to meet standard parameters, such as those for COD, pH and ammonia nitrogen; real-time data can serve as one means of tracking compliance. Suppliers disclosing DETOX wastewater results can demonstrate that they have established comprehensive systems for environmental management by voluntarily disclosing their full annual self-monitoring data, including air emissions and energy use, through such means as IPE’s annual emissions and PRTR disclosure platform.
Real-time monitoring data is a game-changer because the worst offenders can no longer hide, and those top performers can publicly verify that they meet or exceed stringent standards. It also supplies brands with rich and readily-available information to target cleanup efforts at those most egregious wastewater polluters. As the power of the public is brought into play and more and more consumers go green, brands that want to reap benefits will need to be open and accountable – and they now have the tools to do so.
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