World Rainforest Day: Dozens of retailers commit to deforestation-free fashion supply chains

Ralph Lauren, Ted Baker, Sainsbury's and Asda are among a coalition of 45 major businesses jointly pledging to eliminate deforestation from their fashion supply chains, as part of a collaborative initiative coordinated by non-profit Canopy.

Deforestation will be mitigated through supply chain engagement, recycled material sourcing and investment in innovation

Deforestation will be mitigated through supply chain engagement, recycled material sourcing and investment in innovation

The firms have joined Canopy’s CanopyStyle and Pack4Good initiatives, which empower brands to remove the use of forestry products from ancient and endangered forests from their fashion and packaging supply chains respectively.

Participating firms are given practical support to transition to materials certified as sustainably sourced, or to recycled or innovative “next generation” materials, in collaboration with suppliers. On the latter, Canopy is helping businesses to scale up solutions like microbial cellulose produced using food waste.

Canopy believes that by collaborating rather than acting alone, fashion businesses can better leverage their combined reach and “purchasing power” to help supply chains, policy and other private sector actors take holistic action against deforestation. The new batch of signatories brings the membership of the CanopyStyle initiative to 259 businesses, with the likes of Levi Strauss, Stella McCartney, Marks & Spencer and H&M having previously signed up. CanopyStyle’s supporters collectively represent $370bn (£298bn) in total revenue.

The announcement comes at a time when deforestation in the Amazon rainforest is believed to be increasing, with authorities typically tasked with patrolling the area having to reduce their schedule due to social distancing requirements and self-isolating staff. Satellite imagery of the forest in April showed a 55% year-on-year increase in clearance by area size.

Fashion is forestry

Fashion is probably not the industry which first springs to mind when deforestation is mentioned. Indeed, research from bodies including the IPCC has concluded that the main drivers are agri-food (particularly soy, palm oil and beef) and primary forestry products like wood, paper and pulp.

However, fashion does bear a significant forest footprint – 150 million trees are logged for use as textiles every year, mainly for use as viscose. The use of recycled viscose is in its infancy, with 6.5 million tonnes of virgin viscose produced and 26 million tonnes of viscose landfilled annually.

Moreover, the use of viscose has repeatedly been linked to water and land pollution.

In a drive to change this trend, Canopy last year began collaborating with businesses to map all of the world’s ancient and endangered forests, the suppliers which are using products from these regions, and the end-user businesses sourcing from these suppliers. Business backers include Zara’s parent firm Inditex, H&M and Kering.

The ultimate aim of the project is for this information to be shared with investors and consumers, and to be used to improve corporate sourcing targets and practices. M&S is more advanced on this journey than most, having launched a digital map highlighting all textile suppliers through which it sources man-man cellulosic fibres (MMCF) including viscose late last year.

Away from Canopy’s work, Textile Exchange and Forum for the Future recently launched a new vision for transforming global MMCF supply chains in the coming decade, in which net-positive benefits could be delivered for people and the environment.

The vision sets out a string of recommended actions for businesses and other industry actors, centred around regenerative agriculture, decarbonisation, the circular economy, pollution mitigation, upholding rights and creating prosperity.

“While progress is being made on traceability, innovation and sourcing practice, opportunities for deeper, systemic change are being lost in the absence of a holistic approach to addressing these interrelated challenges within the full value chain,” Forum for the Future’s chief executive Sally Uren said.  “By aligning behind a shared vision for a resilient and sustainable industry, the MMCF industry could lead the transformation of the apparel and textile sector, as well as make a positive contribution to other industries that source this versatile fibre.”

Sarah George



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