For many regions, it is now a race against the clock in an attempt to reverse environmental damages caused by various industries. Such efforts have become increasingly apparent within the European Union (EU), which has been drastically scraping together an array of legislations over the past year to tackle eco-issues in a bid to right the wrongs of past transgressions.
One industry that has been a central focus of these current and future regulations is the fashion sector, infamously known for its polluting practices, ethical dilemmas and lack of accountability. Next to laws and regulations that look to lessen the effects of microplastics and deforestation, the European Commission has also put forward a proposal under the new Ecodesign for Sustainable Products Regulation (ESPR), described by the Commission as the cornerstone of its approach to more environmentally sustainable and circular products. The rules of the bill will apply to all products placed on the EU market, whether produced inside or outside the EU. Alongside a framework to strengthen the complacency to ecodesign requirements, the bill would also introduce a digital passport for a variety of products, including textiles.
What is the Digital Product Passport?
Officially titled the Digital Product Passport (DPP), the tool will require brands to collect and share data from a product’s entire lifecycle accessible in the form of a 'digital twin'. While the concept and operational aspects of the DPP continues to evolve, in its initial format it will highlight the sustainability, environmental and recyclability attributes of a product, as well as its manufacturing process and sourcing. Its base is rooted in the blockchain, a decentralised technology which aims to ensure that such data is secure and easily accessible to the end-user. The data can then be accessed by a care label – QR code or barcode – which a customer can scan to view the information provided.
Categories that the DPP will feature include general product information, covering elements such as ID, weight, manufacturing facility and reference numbers, and source, which refers to the type of raw material used for the product’s creation and their origins. Additionally, footprint will also be highlighted, offering up data on the product’s carbon footprint profile, as will ownership, touching on details of the product’s past and current owners. Information on repairs, warranties and instructions – in regards to disassembly, recycling and other processes – will also be included.
Speaking to FashionUnited, Jake Hanover, director of digital products and apparel solutions at Avery Dennison, said on the DPP’s introduction: “By creating this easily accessible and verifiable digital record, the DPP aims to enhance transparency, traceability, and trust across the whole supply chain, from manufacturers all the down the line to the consumer and recyclers, to enable more sustainable and informed consumer choices.”
Why is it being introduced? What benefits will it bring?
The data collected for the DPP is generated to benefit brands, stakeholders and consumers alike, each one set to gain from different aspects of the tool’s function. When asked what it would mean for consumers, Jorge Delgado, senior sustainability manager for material innovation firm Recover, said: “For consumers, it will help them to make more informed purchasing decisions and aid them in making sustainable choices. With the DPP, consumers are less likely to be misled, and it will be a lot harder for brands to greenwash and make unsubstantiated sustainability claims.”
Avery Dennison’s Hanover added: “DPPs could store verification data that will give consumers confidence they are buying a durable item. A DPP provides increased transparency of the products they purchase, empowering them to make more informed buying decisions that align with their values. DPPs also store a wealth of ‘how to’ content, helping instil a long-list of skills, such as darning and sewing or restyling tips. Consumers can verify the authenticity of products, access information about sustainability efforts, and gain insights on the product's lifecycle journey from yarn to shop floor.”
When it comes to businesses, opportunities differ just slightly, but still revolve around an increased confidence in consumers, building their trust through reliable facts and figures, as well as the addition of protection from materials and processes that follow pre-set standards. Businesses will also benefit from new revenue streams linked to the DPP, alongside the ability to validate their own green claims to avoid any allegations of greenwashing. Recover’s Delgado added: “The DPP will provide information for actors along the value chain: consumers, economic operators, and national authorities, which will greatly improve traceability and facilitate the verification of product compliance by national authorities.”
What challenges does its implementation present?
With new technology, however, comes new challenges. Particularly when it is to be integrated on such an enormous scale. Speaking on possible challenges, Delgado said: “The DPP needs to be connected through a data carrier to a unique identifier, which is to be physically present on the product, accessible online and fully interoperable. The actor who places the product on the EU market is also legally responsible for collecting, providing, and updating the required information. For all these reasons, brands shall be prepared to collect, provide, and update all the required DPP information.”
There may also be challenges when it comes to the transformation of existing supply chain processes and systems, as highlighted by Avery Dennison’s Hanover, who said: “Seamlessly integrating the DPP into established workflows may require significant adjustments and investments in technology infrastructure. Achieving widespread adoption across the industry is a gradual process. It necessitates collaborative initiatives within the sector and the establishment of shared practices among stakeholders. It's crucial to acknowledge that in specific segments of the supply chain, infrastructure might be constrained, emphasising the necessity for essential groundwork before the technology can be fully leveraged and integrated.”
Despite this, Hanover did note that such a shift promises “a streamlined approach” to monitor and mitigate carbon emissions across the value chain, among other things. He added: “Embracing this initiative transcends mere regulatory compliance; it stands as the cornerstone for optimising production efficiency and bolstering supply chain management, aligning seamlessly with prudent business strategies.”
Such technology has also caused the DPP’s introduction to be considerably delayed. The specifications of the regulations were initially expected to be published in 2024, but there are still processes and unclear elements that present uncertainties for those that will ultimately be required to implement the tool. Such delays are linked to the need for further clarity surrounding the topic of social impact and the importance of establishing a unified system. This has ultimately meant that there has not been a date set for DPP’s introduction, with regulation currently forecast to come into effect by 2026/27, while most products are expected to be covered by 2030.
What can brands and retailers expect from DPP’s introduction?
While there still may be a long way off until companies need to actually make any regulated changes, it is already worth preparing ahead of time. Hanover emphasised the need for retailers and brands to fully familiarise themselves with the DPP and its benefits by investing time in educating themselves about the technology and its implications. This also rings true for customer communication, for which Hanover said there needed to be clear messaging that was both authentic and transparent. He also touched on the importance of collaboration, described by Hanover as “key to successful integration”. He added: “Foster relationships with all those across the supply chain to establish a unified approach to DPP integration. Also, define clear protocols for sharing data amongst partners to ensure the accuracy and consistency of information through the product’s lifecycle.”
Supply chain players like Recover are among those that will be vital for brands to build relationships with, and have, themselves, already got their sights set on how they can aid in such transitions. The company’s Delgado stated: “At Recover, as we work with different brands, we will be able to provide standardised information required for the DPP; information on specific voluntary labels applicable to the product (Global Recycled Standard, Higg tools, etc.); as well as product environmental impact values obtained throughout our Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), which is third-party verified.”
It also must be noted that in spite of the ESPR being delayed, regulations can still move quite fast in terms of changes, with the Commission regularly publishing updates and adaptations to continue improving and building on the final product. When asked how brands and retailers should be preparing, Delgado concluded: “Brands and retailers need to make sure that they stay updated in relation to these new regulations, and they also need to build relationships between peers and the other actors in the supply chain, to ensure the flow of required information. They should see it as a potential benefit to improve the textile and fashion sector, rather than as an obstacle, and as an opportunity for brands to educate the consumers on the impacts behind their goods.”