Partnerships powering a world-first in the post-pandemic ‘new normal’
Over the last six months, Circulor, Jaguar Land Rover, Bridge of Weir, and the University of Nottingham collaborated on a world-first initiative, to establish traceability using blockchain technology in the automotive leather supply chain. The objective of the Innovate UK funded project was to assess the feasibility of tracking leather ‘from farm to vehicle’ to overcome the environmental, social, and governance (ESG) risks associated with the global and fragmented leather supply chain.
Whilst looking to pioneer and implement traceability in a novel area, as a consortium, we were solely reliant on remote working due to the pandemic. We frequented Microsoft Teams to gauge the expertise of the different partners and establish and execute a plan for tracking hides, all whilst building new working relationships, rapports, and establishing a team dynamic.
After four months of remote collaboration and hard work, the group accomplished the first ever tracking of leather hides leveraging a combination of technologies, including blockchain, which followed the material from farms, across abattoirs, to the leather tannery. This not only demonstrated the feasibility of the technology, but the power and impact of the partnership (perhaps even more significantly, remote partnership).
Douglas Johnson-Poensgen, CEO at Circulor said: "Bringing folks together to talk about themes of sustainability and the role that technology can play in increasing trust in complex industrial supply chains is really valuable."
Soon after tracking the physical hides via a digital twin, the focus turned toward how best to apply the lessons and key insights from this work at a commercial scale to enable traceability across global, complex, and fragmented supply chains.
As part of these discussions, the group recognised the need to address ‘bigger picture’ questions, leveraging expertise from external specialists who could bring a fresh perspective to help us establish the ‘what next?’.
Thankfully, as the summer approached, coronavirus waned, and restrictions eased and the prospect of meeting some of the consortium in person during a workshop to address these broader questions became a real possibility. Circulor’s London Head Quarters had recently opened, and the space lends itself to hybrid collaboration and innovation, with state-of-the-art video conferencing and sound systems throughout, plenty of break-out areas, white board walls, and configurable spaces.
The group aligned on a plan for the day, inviting two experts to join and provide keynote addresses to the consortium: Deborah Taylor and Simon Hall. Deborah is Managing Director at the Sustainable Leather Foundation and a consultant to the UNECE advising on the advancement of transparency and traceability of sustainable value chains in the garment and footwear space, who spoke about the importance and drives for traceability in leather supply chains. Simon, Director at National Wildlife Federation, presented on the implications and opportunities for traceability in leather supply chain in Brazil, a pertinent topic to our expansion plans due to the sheer volume of leather imported from South America.
Professor Bart McCarthy from University of Nottingham led a compelling and thought-provoking introduction to the afternoon’s activities, raising questions and ‘food for thought’ for breakout sessions. Guest speakers and members of the consortium (including Sustainability and Innovation Director at Scottish Leather Group Limited, Digital Supply Chain Lead from Jaguar Land Rover, and Chief Executive of Circulor) broke out into groups to debate key questions including ‘What are the most significant inhibitors, challenges and barriers to achieving higher levels of traceability in the leather supply chain’ and ‘What level of traceability should we aim for?’. The day was rounded off via a panel to reflect on the group’s thoughts around the key themes and topics, which will be used to inform an academic paper authored by Wafaa Ahmed Elehemer and Bart MacCarthy from the University of Nottingham on ‘Defining the optimum level of traceability’.
A key objective of the workshop was to enable effective hybrid collaboration under the ‘new normal’, bringing together those joining remotely and in person, safely and inclusively. All speakers were filmed live, questions asked by the audience using microphones to ensure remote attendees could hear clearly, and breakout groups and locations chosen carefully. COVID-19 compliance measures were paramount throughout the day; all parties took tests before attending, the space was set up to enable social distancing, and surfaces frequently sanitised.
James Hamilton, Digital Supply Chain Lead at Jaguar Land Rover said: "It was great to finally meet the team at the workshop in London – huge levels of energy, passion and excitement reflecting the potential blockchain represents in Provenance, Assurance of Supply and Energy Tracking. The biggest realisation for me was the concept of ‘Trust Points’ within a network that provide baseline upstream provenance and energy datapoints and the potential role Circulor can play here in endorsing authenticity. I’m really looking forward to building on our feasibility study to cover both global leather and trailblazing other critical commodities. Well done team – great result!"
The workshop was energising, with new thoughts, ideas, perspectives, and views being discussed openly to establish how the feasibility study could be expanded at an industrial scale. The day cemented the consortium’s relationships as long-term partners to provide the foundation to building a truly sustainable future.
You can watch a video of the workshop here.