PLM, Helping to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint

On a personal level, our style and methods of living determine the amount of greenhouse gases we contribute to the global environment.  Discounting natural sources and focusing on the carbon dioxide we produce through transport, food, fuel, services and so on allows to calculate what’s commonly referred to as our “carbon footprint”.


Whether we like to dwell on the fact or not, the choices we make and the habits we fall into – whether we bike to work; whether we consumer locally-produced meat – have a major environmental impact. This is an equation plenty of us have wrestled with in our personal lives, where small changes like our modes of personal transport can make a big difference – but the ‘we’ I want to address in this article are the multinationals, small businesses, departments and divisions who, through their daily activities, create a net negative effect on our climate.


Irrespective of your stance on whether climate change is man-made or naturally occurring, the consensus amongst shoppers – your harshest critics – is that the brands they love should act sustainably.  This is a loaded term, and one you’ll find covered from a multitude of different angles in this publication, but for the purposes of this article I want to talk about you can act to reduce your carbon footprint through careful and considered investments in technology.


And the time to act is now.


What I don’t plan to explore here are the more “managerial” ways in which a company might reduce its carbon footprint; company bicycles, recycling, car pooling and so on are all outside the scope of this article.  Great ideas though they may be, I want to look specifically at how adopting PLM might help to mitigate your impact on the environment.


At WhichPLM, we have routinely made our case for the business benefits of PLM – efficiency, cost savings, data cleansing and centralisation, to cite just a few – but the following are examples of what we consider to be the kind of added value that often goes overlooked when organisations consider PLM.  These are the top four ways in which I believe PLM, properly selected and implemented, can have a positive effect on your carbon footprint.


3D virtual sampling


The world’s leading retailers and brands request thousands, and in some cases even millions, of samples per year to support their product design and development activities.


Recently, I overheard a senior executive from a sports company explaining to a colleague that their European operations go through a staggering 3 million iterative samples per year – many of which are air-freighted from suppliers in Asia back to their headquarters.  It doesn’t require a calculator to figure out that this adds up to a great deal of jet fuel burnt in an average twelve-month cycle.


But is that kind of large-scale sampling strictly necessary?  Today, 3D virtual sampling solutions have the ability to simulate a range of products, from apparel to accessories, in ways that can be almost indistinguishable from reality.  More rigid products like footwear tend to fare better in a virtual sampling environment, but broadly speaking a large percentage of physical sampling could easily be replaced with virtual prototyping, which products only moving to the physical sample stage once they have met with initial approval in their virtual form.


The best 3D sampling solutions can translate 2D DXF pattern files from the majority of CAD/CAM systems high-resolution images, allowing designers and garment technicians to fully assess the detail requirements of the finished product.  In addition to this, a collaborative 3D sampling environment allows vendors to question requirements through an online portal, using collaborative whiteboards and screen-sharing.  All of which can contribute to a dramatic fall in costly iterative sampling, as well as a significant reduction in airfreight costs – both to you and to mother Earth.


Fabric sampling


The next logical step in the typical production process, once design silhouettes have been approved, is to obtain physical fabric samples from your sourcing partners – again shipping them between continents.


But does it have to be this way?  Let’s consider an alternative approach: digital printing on fabric substrates.


This process takes a digital fabric image from a CAD system (at a 1:1 ratio, or as a tiled or repeating pattern) and then prints this information using a reactive dye based inkjet printer, applying the results directly onto the fabric substrate. The end result is a 1×1 metre sample length that can in turn be used to create physical garment samples.  Unlike the standard method, which requires fabric samples to be flown from country to country, this process can be completed in a matter of hours as opposed to weeks.


By thinking differently, not only are we reducing our carbon footprint using a digital fabric printing process, but we are also reducing the cycle time of design and sampling by a factor of potentially 25:1.  And as we all know, in the time of the demanding, socially-connected consumer, up-to-the-minute trend is king.


Colour management


The scope of sampling extends beyond the fabric and garment level.  Colour management is another key target for carbon footprint reduction, since physical colour samples – like their fabric counterparts – are often shipped around the world in order to complete the approval process.


This can again result in thousands (or millions) of samples travelling from their points of origin to your headquarters, depending on the size of your organisation.  Whereas, if the colour management process can be converted into a digital format, with online approvals issued to the originating supplier’s colour management system, we could see a huge reduction in the environmental and monetary cost of colour sampling.




As you can tell from the previous three suggestions, when it comes to leveraging PLM and extended-PLM to reduce your carbon footprint, it’s all about joining the dots!


Collaboration is something of a buzzword in modern PLM, but generally we find that people see it as a one-way stream leading from their offices to their vendors and manufacturers.  In reality, this is only a small part of the overall puzzle.  If you want to address your environmental impact holistically, you need to look at the entire extended supply chai, and that means raw materials suppliers for fabrics, linings, components etc.


All of this can be digitised to enable the early sampling process, using images rather than physical samples, and resulting in fewer deliveries via road, sea or air.  As well as helping to make us more environmentally sound, this might also give rise to more efficient processes, leading to shorter cycle times, and products landing on store shelves closer to trend than ever before.


There are certain to be countless other ways that investing in PLM and extended-PLM technologies could help to reduce your organisation’s carbon footprint, which is something any socially responsible company should consider when evaluating the added value potential of their current or shortlisted PLM solution(s).

Mark Harrop

Mark Harrop is the founder and CEO of WhichPLM, the premiere online destination for brands, retailers and other apparel professionals looking to make the most of their investments in technology. Find out more at