Fashion industry must take action to protect biodiversity, new report says

A new report has been published by global non-profit Textile Exchange and the Global Eco Initiative Fashion Pact tited The Biodiversity Landscape Analysis for the Fashion, Apparel, Textile, and Footwear Industry calls for the initiatives and goals of the fashion industry to ensure a sustainable future, including protecting biodiversity, access to fibers and raw materials.

Report: The Biodiversity Landscape Analysis for the Fashion, Apparel, Textile, and Footwear Industry

A Biodiversity Landscape Analysis Report for the Fashion, Apparel, Textile and Footwear Industry of the Textile Exchange and Fashion Pact has set a target and plan. Essentially, combining this wealth of available tools, methods, frameworks and standards and condensing them into relevant methods and actions can take companies a long way forward.

The organizations thus argue that fashion and textile and clothing companies are “intrinsically responsible for biodiversity conservation”. Which is currently known to be in a water crisis as a result of human activities.

According to media reports, in 2023, biodiversity loss has been recognized as the fourth largest long-term global risk by the World Economic Forum.

But while the report, published in partnership with Conservation International and supported by Biodiversify, notes that the fashion industry is highly dependent on biodiversity. The report said that by 2022, a third of the fibers and raw materials used by the textile industry would be sourced from agriculture and forests.

“This report provides not only an analysis of the problem but also a blueprint for change. The fashion industry is acutely aware of the urgent need to reduce its environmental footprint, and this report presents a clear recommendation to help organizations cut complexity and take action. Working with leading brands like Kering and our recommendations have already made a difference in some market segments. But we have to take the whole fashion industry seriously and make drastic changes to save nature. He shall conduct the works accordingly”

Dr. Michael Burgas, director of Biodiversify

Textile industry has mostly material impact. Biodiversity pressures in the textile industry relate to 4 levels — raw material production and primary processing stages of the value chain — the report focuses on impacts on biodiversity due to upstream supply chain and life cycle stages and provides specific guidance. Major biodiversity impacts from material preparation, processing, and product manufacturing (level 3-1) are largely related to pollution from processes such as textile dyeing and treatment, or leather tanning, as well as energy use throughout production. At the consumer-use stage of textiles, microfibers also impact biodiversity in multiple ways, through shedding, waterway pollution, and water and energy use from laundry.

“While industry sustainability efforts have focused mainly on climate action, companies are increasingly recognizing that climate and nature are two sides of the same coin.”

The report argues, “Since many materials used by the fashion, textile and apparel industries come from the land, companies have a significant opportunity to not only reduce damage and reduce risk, but also to actively protect, restore and regenerate natural ecosystems.”

Key takeaways from the Textile Exchange Biodiversity Report

  • The main objective of the report is to prevent and counter research falsification and fact-finding efforts and to meaningfully address the issue of biodiversity. This can be helpful in dealing with biodiversity issues. It also suggests that fashion can also provide special support for players to take action.
  • Goals can also be of great help in guiding the direction of travel. The Biodiversity Landscape Analysis is currently under development by the Science Based Targets Network (SBTN) and the Taskforce on Nature-Related Financial Disclosure (TNFD), intended to inform biodiversity targets, strategies and to complement the initial and forthcoming technical guidance on reporting.
  • Bringing diversity of perspectives and on-the-ground input is very important. By reporting and drawing on interviews with a range of industry players including farmers, suppliers, supplier groups, brands, certification bodies, consultants and more, the report helps companies understand key definitions and concepts. as well as providing ideas on strategies for how to implement them to achieve positive biodiversity outcomes.
  • There is no single solution, but there are some general next steps to take. Going forward, Textile Exchange, The Fashion Pact, and Conservation International call on companies to adopt a science-based approach to decision-making. Recognizes the need to work at the landscape level – considering areas in need of protection, restoration and regeneration. There is no one-size-fits-all solution for biodiversity. When adopting a continuous improvement approach, it is desirable to build strategic collaboration at all levels to enable impact at scale.

Recommendations for textile industry to improve biodiversity

Avoid: Preventing negative effects from happening in the first place, so eliminating the effects altogether. One approach is that avoidance applies to new or potential impacts and may involve explicitly eliminating specific impacts by excluding specific elements, geographic areas, or ecosystems, or by avoiding certain technologies, land management practices, or processes. For the textile industry, steps may include avoiding sourcing and/or using the following:

  • Fibers and materials from farms related to deforestation and conversion
  • Animal fibers and materials produced using intensive farming or animal husbandry systems and inputs that degrade soils and landscapes
  • Fiber and materials from farms that use lethal wildlife management practices
  • Growing cotton using intensive tillage/ploughing and high levels of synthetic inputs, such as broad-spectrum pesticides and nitrogen-based artificial fertilizers
  • Fibers and materials with opaque origins that do not allow for proper processing.

Minimize: This action applies to minimizing — but not necessarily eliminating — existing or known negative impacts. Good practice ‘as low as reasonably practicable’ (ALARP) minimizes impacts, recognizing that there may be trade-offs between costs and benefits. Examples of reduction actions include:

  • Reducing negative impacts on land, ecosystems and natural resources and reducing sustainable dependence by adopting business models that prevent use and/or displace a portion of virgin materials with recycled materials.
  • Sourcing fibers and materials from farms certified by standards with biodiversity-beneficial criteria and land management practices.
  • Working with suppliers to implement practice changes. For example, reducing the number of harmful inputs or negative impacts on biodiversity, ecosystem functioning and habitat connectivity through best-practice land management.

Restoration: Restoration actions typically involve restoring a degraded natural system (such as a watershed or grassland) to a near-pristine natural state or improving its state of integrity. It can help initiate or accelerate recovery with a focus on lasting change in the state. It is important to ensure that restoration does not become the sole focus or justification for degraded land in the first place. Restoration is often a long-term and resource-intensive activity that rarely replenishes the original ecosystems (and the biodiversity they support) to the same degree. Restorative actions may include:

  • Broadly supporting individual species recovery plans.
  • Determining rehabilitation of degraded land or ecosystem.
  • Investing in programs or projects with criteria for restoring (or focusing on) degraded ecosystems in both productive and, where relevant, surrounding “non-productive” (natural) areas.
  • Working together with local and wider relevant stakeholders to approach activities from a regional or landscape-based perspective etc.

Regeneration: Regenerative actions are designed to improve the integrity of an ecosystem through the proper implementation of land management practices that support ecosystem functioning and the provision of ecosystem services. They are applied to productive landscapes with the aim of maintaining or enhancing biophysical structure and/or ecological function. Examples of these actions include:

  • Adopting standards, initiatives and other programs or projects in line with principles of regenerative agriculture and its standards.
  • Moving beyond certification to support suppliers’ transition to regenerative agriculture practices by investing in technical assistance and infrastructure upgrades.
  • Working with local and other stakeholders to approach projects from a regional or landscape-based perspective.

Transformation: To ensure system-level change, companies should consider transformational actions within their own organizations, such as shifting business strategies and models within and beyond their own supply chains and leveraging their control and influence wherever possible. Example actions include:

  • Accelerating industry-wide progress through public commitment, investment and joining other organizations taking action.
  • Working with a range of partners within specific landscapes (landscape initiatives).

Ultimately, the report says, it’s important that organizations take a holistic approach to both the type of action (whether it’s addressing biodiversity loss and reduction, or restoration and regeneration efforts). As well a

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