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Read to find out how the fashion industry has been contributing to the biodiversity crisis and what brands can do to reverse this change!

Words By Varnika Srivastava


Soil Erosion

Fashion and Biodiversity

Most industries cannot continue to neglect environmental degradation. According to the World Economic Forum’s 2020 Nature Risk Rising survey, nature is moderately or strongly dependent on $44 trillion (half of global GDP). The same can be said for the fashion industry. While many fashion brands and companies have taken a shift towards carbon neutrality, the movement for tackling the biodiversity crisis has been slow at best. The ‘connection’ between fashion and biodiversity is not always obvious or explicit and has often been overlooked both by consumers and producers. “The majority of our raw materials come directly from fields, agriculture, ecosystems, and forests,” says Kering’s chief sustainability officer, Marie-Claire Daveu.“It has an impact on the environment.”
Cotton farming, which accounts for a third of the fibers in our clothing, will result in soil erosion, habitat destruction, and species disruption due to the use of toxic pesticides. Leather, on the other hand, is a byproduct of cattle raising, which accounts for 70% of deforestation in the Amazon rainforest. Viscose, too, is a major contributor to deforestation, with an estimated 150 million trees cut down each year to make the fiber. Nicole Rycroft, CEO and founder of Canadian non-profit Canopy, says, “We don’t need to log 800-year-old trees to make T-shirts.”

“Forest habitats are home to 80% of the terrestrial animals we share this planet with, and habitat destruction is a significant contributor to the biodiversity collapse we’re seeing.
Fashion leaves a large imprint.”

The fashion industry has a tradition of contributing to biodiversity destruction, but people and businesses are starting to understand that they can help. “It would no longer be appropriate to tell, ‘I don’t know what to do,’” admits Global Fashion Agenda‘s Morten Lehmann. Supporting nature would be something that marketers and businesses will have to be able to claim in the future if they wish to stay in business. Companies will future-proof themselves by investing in things that sustain biodiversity rather than ruin it. This can include investing in environmentally friendly factories, materials, or supply chains. One way the fashion industry will be more prepared to deal with external threats is to promote biodiversity. COVID-19 has shown the cost of not understanding where their goods are manufactured or what affect their ingredients have on the world of businesses and brands. Consequently, this should be the minimum requirements for establishing a brand.

Textile production

Textile Production

Although the full scale of fashion’s emission effect is unclear, figures have historically estimated that the ‘wet’ processes of textile production contribute to 20% of global freshwater pollution. The scouring, bleaching, dyeing, printing, and finishing of raw textiles are all wet manufacturing processes that use a lot of water and chemicals. Many of the world’s rivers are already contaminated, despite many businesses cleaning up their actions and engaging in safer dyeing technologies and proper wastewater management. Around 2,000 textile factories line the Citarum River in Indonesia, where effluent from dyeing and refining fabrics was previously deposited with little to no oversight. This has wreaked havoc on the climate and human health in the city. Pesticides used in the processing of our raw materials have also been found to decrease essential species numbers while also eroding soil biodiversity. Despite the fact that cotton is grown on just 3% of the planet’s farm property, it consumes 16% of all insecticides and 7% of all pesticides.

Biodiversity as a priority

While some insecticides have been outlawed and substituted, many others continue to destroy or damage a wide range of insects, including pollinators. Marie-Claire Daveu also reminds us that we have less than ten years to change the biodiversity curve. To synergically approach and resolve biodiversity challenges, brands must collaborate closely with NGOs, including Conservation International and local communities. They must now look past themselves and see if they can make a positive difference outside of their supply chains. Kering is setting a precedent by pledging to reclaim 1 million hectares of land both within and outside of its direct supply chain. If biodiversity is prioritized in business plans, we can be able to slow the rate of biodiversity loss.

Is all hope lost? No, not at all. There are many brands who are actively working to combat this pressing issue head on.
From wrapping paper to biomaterials like nanocellulose, Sappi is a leading global producer of dissolving pulp and daily biobased products made from renewable resources.

They’ve been contributing to development for decades and have been a member of the United Nations Global Compact since 2008. Sappi Verve’s sustainability manager, Krelyne Andrew, reveals why. “Our mission is to be a reliable, accessible, and forward-thinking collaborator. We ensure that all of the advantages of healthy forests are preserved for people and the world by encouraging sustainable and creative approaches to forest management. Conservation of biodiversity is a cornerstone of our land management strategy.”

Furthermore, Kering unveiled a dedicated biodiversity plan in July 2020, along with a set of new goals aimed at achieving a “net positive” effect on biodiversity by 2025. The “Kering for Nature Fund: 1 Million Hectares for the Planet” was established to aid the fashion industry’s transformation to regenerative agriculture. Additionally, INDIGENOUS, a company that advocates “clean and fair trade wear,” was built on the principle of climate justice. Indigenous people control or manage around a fifth of the world’s landmass and are responsible for protecting more than 70% of the planet’s existing biodiversity. Indigenous cultures must be included as a pillar of the dialogue when it comes to preserving habitats on the globe. Last but not least, more than 60 CEOs from the industry’s top firms, representing more than 200 brands, have formed the Fashion Pact, which is focused on the collective action needed to deliver solutions to a global scale.

Launching T.E.B.B.

In fact, the corporations are launching their first joint activity on sustainability, in addition to setting seven concrete goals for the environment, biodiversity, and oceans. The Fashion Pact‘s executive officer, Eva von Alvensleben, claimed, “We are very excited for the launch of the Textile Exchange Biodiversity Benchmark.”

“When biodiversity is protected, so are supply chains.”