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NRDC Mapping Tool Links Apparel Brands to Their Suppliers’ Environmental Performance

A new mapping tool created by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and China’s Institute of Public & Environmental Affairs (IPE) is ushering in a new era for transparency in China. The IPE Green Supply Chain Map — the only of its kind in the world — openly links multinational corporations to their suppliers’ environmental performance.

Based on publicly available data from the Chinese government, IPE’s database and map provide real-time data and historical trends in air pollution emissions and wastewater discharge for nearly 15,000 major industrial facilities in China and access to environmental supervision records for over half a million more. Target, Esprit, New Balance, PUMA, Gap Inc. and Inditex have agreed to become the first companies featured on the new map, publicly sharing their lists of suppliers and providing this information to IPE for its inaugural mapping efforts.

“Until now, customers have lacked effective tools to assess the environmental impact of their favorite brands’ global operations,” said Linda Greer, senior health scientist for NRDC and founder of its Clean by Design sustainable supply chain program. “These companies that have stepped up to put their names on the inaugural map are showing new levels of transparency on their manufacturing abroad and are demonstrating real leadership in supply chain responsibility.”

According to Ma Jun, director of IPE, the map has the potential to become a real game-changer for public environmental oversight and efforts aimed at improving industrial manufacturing in China: “We hope to see more brands step up their game and join the map to connect the missing dots of accountability in the vast network of global supply chains.”

NRDC and IPE have been working together over the last eight years to address the air, water and soil pollution problems stemming from China’s extensive industrial manufacturing industry. A staggering amount of this pollution — up to 25 percent of carbon emissions, for example — is linked to the manufacture of products for export abroad.

The IPE Green Supply Chain Map, which is available in both English and Chinese, gives companies the real-time information they need to ensure the sustainability of their manufacturing operations from afar. It also allows customers and other connected members of the public to gain greater insight into companies’ environmental impacts. Users can click the logo of the brand of interest at any location in the country and see exactly how its supplier factory is performing environmentally at that very moment, as well as view a 30-day trend of emissions and discharges. Users can also view factory responses and corrective actions toward environmental violation records, in addition to voluntarily disclosed annual emissions data.

The creation of the map opens up significant opportunities for retailers and brands to improve upon their supply chains by raising expectations that suppliers will actively maintain solid environmental management and transparency. Well-performing factories can be recognized and motivated by multinational and local Chinese firms, whose procurement departments can award greater market share for those demonstrating excellence in their environmental performance. When used correctly, the IPE Green Supply Chain Map can reduce the time and expense associated with factory audits, which often don’t identify hidden problems as well.

“We hope our map can serve as a reference for other countries and regions facing similar concerns about environmental impacts of rapid industrialization within their own borders,” said Kate Logan, green choice outreach director for IPE.