Conference Paper

Fashioning the system: Qualitative system mapping to uncover feedback loops, root causes and leverage points in the textile and apparel industries

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Abstract

The textile and apparel industries are highly globalized and characterized by vertical disintegration throughout the supply chain. They are also considered among the world’s most polluting and exploitative industries. The social and environmental sustainability problems in these interrelated industries traverse firm and national boundaries, making them highly complex, wicked problems. Systems thinking is an approach that can be used to evaluate and manage wicked problems, allowing researchers to identify root causes of complex problems, predict system behaviors and avoid unintended consequences of short-sighted decision making. Systems thinking requires understanding the interconnections between different system elements to determine the behavior of the system as a whole. This paper, part of the scenario-building work in the STN-funded FINIX project, seeks to answer the question, “What are the systemic environmental and social sustainability impacts of global textile systems?” To answer this, we are conducting an integrative literature review using a method for qualitative system mapping from documentary sources by coding the positive (A increases B) and negative (A decreases B) polarities in relationships between elements in a text. The relationships will be mapped to show the interconnections between them, resulting in a comprehensive system schematic. We expect to find that social and environmental challenges have interconnected causes, particularly driven by time and cost pressures in the industry. We also expect that the drivers and enablers of these time and cost pressures are key leverage points in potential system change. This approach can help projects do early-stage system mapping, which can be used for future scenario building. Ultimately, system maps can challenge established thinking, bringing to light root causes for systemic problems and enabling corrective action directed to those pressing root causes.

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