Through an LCA, you can map out the precise impact of your product and production process. With these insights, you can then reduce your environmental impact. But what does the process of an LCA look like for your organisation? And what challenges might arise? Laura Koedijk, sustainability manager at clothing brand Studio Anneloes, shares her experience
What question did you bring to Hedgehog Company? And was sustainability already a topic?
We were already very focused on the question of what our environmental impact was at Studio Anneloes. As a company in the fashion industry, we knew that there was certainly an impact; you can't make clothing without having an impact. But we felt the need to make that impact concrete and visible. Because when you know how significant your impact is, you can take steps to reduce it.
So we started with the question of mapping the impact of our most commonly used fabric quality. In our case, as one of the few fashion brands, 80% of our collection consists of one material, or rather a type of fabric. That is the Sensitive®fabric, also known as Travel Quality. This fabric has a long lifespan and is very easy to maintain. It requires minimal washing, no dryer, and no ironing. These properties make this material less harmful to the environment because the less you wash and iron, the better.
Hedgehog Company then used an LCA to map out this impact for the entire production process of this clothing, from fabric to the store floor. In LCA terms, this is called Cradle-to-Gate.
What were the steps in this process?
To conduct an LCA, you need data. We already had some of this data available, but our main question was how to translate this data into actionable insights.
However, gathering all the required data can be a significant challenge. An LCA covers the entire product life cycle, including the material before we purchase it. For this, you need cooperation from your suppliers since they possess this data.
Next, we needed a place to collect this data. We have a license for Helix software from Ecochain. We gave Hedgehog access to manage the data in our own environment and calculate our impact with it.
What is the time frame for this process, from the first contact until you have the data?
It takes a few months, especially at the beginning when we asked our suppliers for extensive data all at once. This can be overwhelming, and the supplier needs to have internal discussions to locate all the necessary data.
However, if a supplier already has their data in reasonably good order, you should be able to obtain the necessary information within a few weeks. This also depends on the complexity of your product and production process. After that, the real work begins because you need to perform calculations with that data.
What challenges did you encounter during this process?
Most challenges arose on the supplier's side. Fortunately, Hedgehog Company provided us with a useful template that we could send to the suppliers to fill in the data. But in recent months, we've noticed that some suppliers have difficulty providing the data.
Not all suppliers are ready for the demand for impact data. Some suppliers simply haven't started working on this yet. For example, we received responses like, "We can't provide that data because we simply don't have it."
In that case, we told them that we would look for another supplier who could provide the data. We made it clear that they should consider that we are not the only ones asking these questions. Legislation related to the impact of products, such as the Product Environmental Footprint or the Digital Product Passport, is coming, and suppliers need to provide this data. If more brands start asking these questions, and you can't provide the data, it will eventually affect your business.
Additionally, some suppliers have difficulty compiling the data. It can be quite a lot of work, even for them, especially if they work with many different materials, each with its own production process and associated consumption.
How did you address these challenges?
We discussed with Hedgehog Company how best to approach our suppliers for data. That's something I appreciated about our collaboration. We initially sent out the Excel template, but we noticed that it can be overwhelming for a supplier, and they might not know where to start.
For the supplier of our Travel Quality fabric, obtaining impact data was not very difficult because they were already working on it and investing in calculating and providing their impact data. However, with other suppliers, we faced more significant challenges.
For example, there was a supplier who had difficulty with the Excel template because of the language (English). Fortunately, there was a Hedgehog employee, Gloria Carta, who speaks Italian. She translated and summarized the template to clarify some questions. This significantly lowered the barrier, and we obtained the necessary data.
What did you notice during this process?
What's crucial is that you perform the calculations very accurately. I'm not an LCA expert myself, but luckily, there are LCA experts at Hedgehog Company. Precision is essential because you want to use the data as accurately as possible.
The EU has certain regulations regarding impact data calculations. When we started, we used a different calculation method than we do now. The European Commission has proposed a standard PEF calculation method for future comparisons. We wanted to prepare for this, so we had to adjust our calculations to comply. It's essential to create a level playing field for consumers and the outside world. It would be desirable for all textile companies to calculate and share impact data in the same way, which is where an EU standard would be helpful.
So, it's crucial to stay vigilant and keep an eye on what's happening in the market and adapt to it. We monitor it ourselves, and Hedgehog Company also keeps an eye on it, and together, we decide which calculation methods to use.
What insights did the LCA provide you?
It's always quite confronting to see the real impact of your product, especially when it comes to water and energy. Our goal has been achieved: making that impact visible, so that we can work on reducing it, both internally and with our suppliers. The challenge is to reduce the impact of a product, such as a blazer, by adjusting your production process.
We aim to translate this impact for consumers because the impact alone doesn't immediately mean something to many people. Is the product good or bad? Therefore, we ultimately want to create a kind of comparison, like this product requires so much water, which is equivalent to a certain number of showers, for example. This makes the impact tangible.
Practical notes on a LCA process
Saro Campisano, Co-Founder and LCA expert at Hedgehog Company, adds: "The biggest challenge in conducting an LCA study is indeed obtaining impact data from suppliers; you rely on your supply chain for this. Ideally, you use as much primary data as possible, data that genuinely pertains to your supplier or the products you purchase. Depending on the project's scope, Hedgehog can do this for you.
However, sometimes this data is simply not available. In such cases, you must resort to secondary data, data from external sources like environmental databases or literature studies. Fortunately, you can still conduct a good LCA study with this data.
As Laura mentioned, Studio Anneloes has its Helix license. For companies that don't have this, Hedgehog can manage the data. Having environmental software/tools in-house has the advantage that you can truly integrate sustainability into your operations and perform and monitor the analyses yourself."