Big-name fashion retailers collaborate to fund digital deforestation map

Seven of the world's largest fashion retailers including H&M and Kering have collectively funded the development of a new online tool that allows businesses, investors and customers to track the origin of paper, wood and viscose sourced by corporates.

Called ForestMapper and developed by environmental non-profit Canopy, the digital tool maps all of the forests in the world, telling users which have been classified as “ancient” or “endangered”. The tool then informs users of the exact locations which corporates are sourcing their raw materials from, enabling greater traceability and accountability by highlighting areas affected by deforestation.

Since its launch on Friday (9 November), more than 100 companies have publicly pledged to begin disclosing their raw material sourcing processes through ForestMapper, including consumer goods giant Kimberly-Clark and Irish shoe retailer DK Boots.

The seven companies to have funded the development of the tool are Kering, Inditex, Stella McCartney, EILEEN FISHER, H&M, Marks & Spencer (M&S) and the C&A Foundation. The companies have also committed to using the app in order to advance their forest protection initiatives.

Inditex’s chief sustainability officer Félix Poza said the uptake of the tool by some of the world’s largest businesses offers it the potential to “generate positive impacts on the world’s forests, species and climate”.

“This practical tool will help us to make the best sourcing decisions that protect species-rich ecosystems, and ultimately ensure that we reach our sustainability goals,” Poza added.

Inditex, which owns brands such as Zara and Stradivarius, has pledged to never source Lyocell, viscose and wood from forests which are considered to have a high conservation value, after restructuring its supply chain in 2017.

As for the other brands to have funded the tool, H&M is currently exploring whether it should move to fund reforestation initiatives under its pledge to become “climate-positive” by 2040, while M&S is widely viewed as a leader in using digital technologies to bolster its transparency and sustainable sourcing efforts.

In 2016, the retailer launched the first of its digital mapping tools with a website listing the location of its beef and dairy farmers, as well as the methods of farming they are using. The project has since been expanded to cover M&S’ wool suppliers and seafood suppliers.

Elsewhere, luxury retailer Kering, which owns brands such as Gucci, Saint Laurent and Alexander McQueen, has committed to source only certified paper and wood for its hangers and packaging by 2019.

“The business community needs to make every effort to protect and steward old-growth forests so that they remain functioning systems for long-term resilience against climate change,” Kering’s director of sustainability programmes Géraldine Vallejo added. “We applaud Canopy’s work in linking forest conservation to supply chains and providing companies with a roadmap to source more responsibly.”

Divesting from deforestation

The launch of the ForestMapper tool comes at a time when 2.4 billion trees are thought to be logged each year for the benefit of the packaging and fashion industries.

Indeed, deforestation contributes up to 15% of global greenhouse gas emissions, but research has shown that the forest and land-use sector could deliver 37% of the emissions reductions required by 2030 to halt dangerous levels of global warming.

In response to the issue, businesses have moved at a pace to set zero-deforestation targets for the sourcing of raw materials such as soypalm oil and paper and pulp. However, CDP estimates that companies to have made such pledges account for just 13% of the global economy.

In a bid to drive stronger action from corporates, big-name investors recently pledged to divest from companies and projects spurring deforestation in Brazil’s Cerrado region, where around 50% of the natural landscape is believed to have been lost since 2000. 

Sarah George

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