Provenance

A supply chain tracking and labelling system that allows consumers to see where and how products are made.

Photo courtesy of Provenance. Source: www.provenance.org/about.

Provenance is building a service that manufacturers, distributors and retailers can use to track the origins of materials and ingredients, and the processes that take place in the manufacture and distribution of a product to retail. This can be made visible to consumers at the point of sale so that they can learn more about a product’s ‘provenance’ and verify any marketing claims made.

It uses blockchain technology to create a ledger that tracks identities and product attributes as products progress through the supply chain.

Provenance is building a traceability system for materials and products using a new kind of data system called a blockchain. It is a data system for securely storing information – inherently auditable, unchangeable and open. We are working towards an open traceability protocol – that anyone can use to track the provenance of anything from coffee beans to a roll of fabric.

Consumers will be able to access the ‘product story’ through a mobile app or website.

How is it redistributive?

Tracking responsibility for products made in distributed systems

In conventional mass manufacturing, the consumer-facing brand, in partnership with the retailer, takes responsibility for the quality and provenance of the product. Typically, the brand makes promises through advertising, and aims to meet these promises to some acceptable level. For consumers seeking to make purchases that reflect concerns they might have about sourcing of ingredients, production methods or employee welfare, it can be difficult to make informed decisions. Brands promise more or less, and fulfil those promises to varying levels.

Redistributed manufacturing relies on distributed supply chains, with many different partners contributing to the final product. In some cases, there is no central brand which can take ownership of the quality or provenance of a product. For example, if the product fails, should the consumer blame the designer or the fabricator?

Additionally, one of the benefits of redistributed manufacturing is in the potential for more of the product costs to be internalised, for example, with better working conditions, or the use of more sustainable materials. These costs may be willingly paid by consumers, but only if they are aware of – and value – the benefits.

A system like Provenance may be able to record and make visible some of these trade-offs, increasing the value of redistributed manufacturing.

What are the barriers to mainstream success?
  • A system like this requires buy-in from many partners, from raw material suppliers, through to distribution partners, which may be difficult to co-ordinate.
  • It depends on consumer demand for greater transparency in production processes.

Related projects

Local Motors

  • A product brought together by a distributed network of designers needs methods for attributing authorship and potentially reward through that network. Systems like this could help manage such a distributed network of authorship.

Further reading

Provenance website

Blockchain: the solution for transparency in product supply chains
Provenance technical whitepaper