The recent heatwaves that have blanketed our globe have raised further alarm bells about our rapidly warming planet – amplifying mainstream conversations around the climate crisis. Today marks International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples and we want to recognise the extensive Indigenous sciences around the likes of land stewardship and biodiversity preservation that set the precedent for true planetary resilience. Together we must respect the central and fundamental role Indigenous peoples play in conserving a healthy planet and the intimate cultural and spiritual methods through which they do so.
Indigenous peoples actively safeguard and conserve an abundant diversity of species, habitats and ecosystems which in turn provide the basis for clean water and air, healthy food and livelihoods for people far beyond their boundaries. The World Bank found that despite comprising around 5% of the global population, predicated upon their intimate relationship with the living world, Indigenous peoples protect 80% of the Earth’s biodiversity in the forests, deserts, grasslands and marine environments which these communities reside. A comprehensive United Nations study outlined that deforestation is lower on Indigenous and tribal-managed lands and in fact, 45 percent of the intact forests in the Amazon are in Indigenous territories.
The February iteration of the latest IPCC report series outlined for the first time that colonialism not only contributes to climate breakdown but also to the consequential vulnerability of many communities. Moreover, in order to achieve climate resilient development, the report acknowledged that partnerships must be developed with traditionally marginalised groups, including Indigenous peoples. Read more about the report here.
Despite concrete evidence and recognition of Indigenous peoples’ contributions and perspectives, this is not always reflected in terms of representation and inclusion. At global events like COP26, there was double the number of representatives from fossil fuel companies than the events official Indigenous presence. We cannot expect to better our understanding without listening to the voices of the communities on the frontline of the climate crisis and those with a deep and holistic understanding of our Earth.
The right to Indigenous sciences
The messages embedded in Indigenous sciences are invaluable to Western conservation efforts but many climate strategies and decisions either ignore, exclude, co-opt or romanticise them. Indigenous peoples must be centred within strategies and discourse. Likewise, misappropriation by Western perspectives places the onus on Indigenous peoples to ‘teach’ this intimate knowledge. Speaking to Atmos, Dr. Jessica Hernandez, an environmental scientist of Maya Ch’orti’ and Zapotec descent, said: “It’s important to understand that we don’t have a right to Indigenous sciences, especially sacred knowledge. We should put Indigenous people front and centre.”
Those in the pursuit of true environmentalism must respect, work in synergy with and centre the Indigenous peoples’ who have provided instrumental scientific insights into sustaining our planet.
Indigenous knowledge can provide a wealth of takeaways for the fashion industry. With the ever-increasing urgency, scrutiny and attention, brands in search of sustainable endeavours sometimes co-opt certain traditional practices as pioneering. One notable example being regenerative forms of agriculture. As we see this concept increase in popularity throughout the industry, we must remember that research demonstrates innumerable examples of Indigenous regenerative land practices that must be acknowledged when integrating certain farming techniques.
Speaking to the Financial Times, Co-Founder of Sylvanaqua Farms, Chris Newman, urges those exploring the potential of regenerative agriculture to recognise Indigenous peoples as experts, and account for their work accordingly.
Furthermore, addressing the social inequalities rife within land management is a necessary precursor to environmental justice. We must support Indigenous peoples in securing their collective land rights, human rights and the maintenance of their cultures on their own terms.
This year, World Environment Day comes with an urgent message: ‘REIMAGINE. RECREATE. RESTORE.’ Continued unsustainable practices and the destruction of our planet’s ecosystems not only present a great threat towards biodiversity but also to the future survival of our planet’s natural carbon sinks.
The apparel producing industry has long been practicing exploitative forms of agriculture in order to keep up with the natural plant and animal fibre demand for fashion goods. Therefore, this year’s messaging highlights the importance of near-term industry action in relation to better farming practices and the introduction of more regenerative forms of agriculture necessary to pave the way for more resilient ecosystems.
WHAT IS REGENERATIVE AGRICULTURE?
Coined in the 1980s, Regeneration International describe regenerative agriculture as farming and grazing practices that, “reverse climate change by rebuilding soil organic matter and restoring degraded soil biodiversity.”(1)
There is not currently a common industry definition of regenerative agriculture, however the practice generally entails methods including foregoing pesticides and certain fertilisers, increasing crop rotation, diversity and biodiversity, composting, tilling, managing livestock grazing, integration of livestock, soil disturbance and the introduction of cover crops to act as natural carbon sequesters.(2)
As a result of over-farming, development and other factors, soil capacity is rapidly declining, with some experts predicting fewer than 60 harvests remaining. Soils are host to a quarter of our earth’s biodiversity and if we continue to degrade the soil at the current rate, the world will run out of topsoil in 60 years. (3)
Read more about biodiversity in our article HERE.
Regenerative agriculture presents just one system-based solution to promote the recovery and future resilience of our planet’s ecosystems by omitting the use of synthetic chemicals and replenishing soil health. It is also a system which values crops as carbon sequesters, according to research, if we were to make a complete switch to regenerative organic agriculture, we could sequester more carbon than is currently emitted.(4)
It is no secret that every garment produced has a ripple effect on the environment, and fashion is in many cases, a product of agriculture, making the industry directly accountable for the resulting soil degradation and biodiversity loss. Natural fibres used for textiles in the fashion industry, whether animal or plant based, are all grown or raised on land, if the land is part of a regenerative system, the subsequent fibre is regenerative.
As outlined in our Fashion CEO Agenda 2021, the material mix is one of the biggest drivers of a fashion brand’s environmental footprint and comes with implications for climate change, waste and biodiversity(5). While significant progress has been made within natural fibre production practices largely driven through the introduction of material standards, these fibres still pose challenges and trade-offs that need to be acknowledged and resolved.
Going forward, industry leaders are encouraged to switch to lower impact materials and consider the integration of regenerative agricultural practices within their supply chains in order to achieve this. A shift towards a more regenerative agricultural system has the potential to create new job opportunities, upskilling and new ways of working. However, it is urged that those who are exploring the potential of regenerative agriculture are respectful towards local indigenous agricultural practices, and account for their work accordingly. (6)
Download the Fashion CEO Agenda 2021 HERE.
REGENERATIVE AGRICULTURE IN PRACTICE
Our Strategic Partner, Kering, is one industry player that is driving progress in the field of regenerative agriculture. Speaking at CFS+ 2020, Katrina Ole-MoiYoi, Sustainble Sourcing Specialist at Kering and Chantsallkham Jamsranjav, South Gobi Cashmere Project Manager at the Wildlife Conservation Socierty discussed regenerative materials for fashion and why focusing upon raw materials is so critical for Kering.
Watch the full video on Regenerative Materials for Fashion HERE.
More recently, Kering have launched a Regenerative Fund for Nature alongside Conservation International. Over the next five years, the initiative will drive the shift from conventional farming practices to regenerative methods for 1,000,000 hectares of crop and rangelands by providing grants to farming groups, project developers, NGOs, and other stakeholders with ambitions to scale regenerative practices.(7)
Read more about The Fund HERE.
(1) Regeneration International (2017). What is Regenerative Agriculture?
(2) Earth Day (n.d.). Regenerative Agriculture.
(3) FAO (n.d.). Keeping soils alive and healthy is key to sustain life on our planet.
(4) Rodale Institute (2020). Regenerative Agriculture and the Soil Carbon Solution.
(5) Global Fashion Agenda (2021). Fashion CEO Agenda 2021.
(6) Financial Times (2021). The New Buzzword in Fashion.
(7)Kering (2021). Kering and Conservation International launch Regenerative Fund for Nature.
A stark warning came last week as the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its latest climate change report. Amid an influx of ‘eco-anxiety’ and ‘climate doom’ following this “code red for humanity”, it has never been more important to remain determined and strong-minded as we reimagine our future.
WHAT THE REPORT TELLS US
The comprehensive overview provided a reckoning with the fact that some of the damage we have inflicted upon our planet is irreversible, for which human activity is now proven to be responsible. We do, however, have the opportunity to prevent some of the worst-case scenarios laid out in the paper. Crucially, the report warns of a 1.5° Celsius global warming in the next two decades unless we take drastic action.1
Climate change comes with widespread implications beyond the obvious planetary consequences, having a ripple effect on everything from the economy to human health, where the consequences are not felt equally by all. The climate issue is a life issue that has begun to take hold on vulnerable communities globally, calling for immediate and widespread attention.
Read the IPCC report HERE.
Despite significant progress made in the fashion industry, it remains a leading cause of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Research shows that the global fashion industry produced around 2.1 billion tonnes of GHG emissions in 2018, equalling 4% of the global total, the equivalent of combined annual GHG emissions from France, Germany and the United Kingdom.2
The fundamental takeaway from the IPCC report is that we must act quickly and meaningfully. We need to abandon the assumption that we have multiple decades to implement changes, but rather, prioritise implementing actionable changes immediately.
Whilst the pursuit of convenience often reigns supreme, we must step out of our comfort zones and flip the script on the prevailing fashion mentality. We can no longer accept hollow commitments speaking to aspirational targets in the distant future.
As aforementioned, the effects of climate change are not borne equally for everyone. A system benefitting some disproportionately at the expense of others is by no means sustainable. Moving forward brands must account for the outsourcing of garments in communities that are already carrying the burdens of climate change at alarming rates.
The industry must now take a holistic approach, whereby brands must focus upon the sustainability of the entire supply chain, as well as the complete lifecycle of products. We cannot afford to ignore the multi-dimensional nature of this issue with narrow approaches. The supply chain remains the most impactful part of the industry,2 and strong partnerships between brands and suppliers will aid the much-needed change in this area. Moreover, the role of policy will become increasingly important to incentivise significant reductions in GHG emissions.
Our Fashion on Climate report is an essential resource for the fashion industry as it outlines areas in which players can focus their efforts to meet climate targets in line with the 1.5° pathway. The report provides a business case demonstrating the industry potential for decarbonisation and concludes that the onus is on fashion leaders to move from a moderate decarbonisation trajectory to a significantly more ambitious one. 2
Read the full report HERE, which covers topics from circular business models and decarbonised material production, to the improved packaging of products and the use of sustainable transport.
HOPE FOR THE FUTURE
The science is clear. Now what?
Eco-anxiety and climate doom can be all-consuming and stifling so we must, therefore, hold on to promise and unite to demand a better future.
From rental to regenerative agriculture, to circular systems and innovative new biomaterials, the opportunities for meaningful change are plentiful. Whilst a full industry transition is no easy feat, it is no longer something we should encourage but rather something we should insist upon. A more prosperous future is possible if we work together.
Challenging as this may sound for businesses, it is encouraging to note that 55% of the efforts outlined in the Fashion on Climate report will actually generate savings on an industrywide basis.2
As climate justice writer and podcast host, Mary Annaïse Heglar, poignantly reminds us: “The thing about climate is that you can either be overwhelmed by the complexity of the problem or fall in love with the creativity of the solutions.”3
Aligning key stakeholders on core priorities to push the industry onto a prosperous trajectory, our Fashion CEO Agenda 2021 is an essential guide for industry leaders. You can download the report HERE.
Moreover, our digital Innovation Forum connects fashion companies with sustainable solution providers with a mission to drive industry words into viable action. Visit the Innovation Forum HERE.
The industry now has not only a considerable responsibility, but also a remarkable opportunity to subvert the path we currently find ourselves on and ensure an abundant future for both people and planet.
1. IPCC. Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis. 2021
2. Global Fashion Agenda. Fashion on Climate. 2020.
3. Heglar M. Twitter. 2020. Available HERE.
World Water Day, held on 22 March every year since 1993, celebrates water and raises awareness of the two billion people living without access to safe water.
An annual United Nations Observance, World Water Day is primarily a day to support the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal 6: water and sanitation for all by 2030.
This 2022, the focus is groundwater, an invisible resource with an impact visible everywhere.
Fashion’s Water Consumption and Pollution
So, what does World Water Day have to do with fashion? The textile industry is heavily reliant on fresh water across the whole value chain – from raw material production through to product use and ultimate disposal and is accountable for approximately four per cent of global freshwater withdrawals. As for our oceans; scientists estimate that textiles produce 35% of the microplastic pollution in the world’s oceans, which would make textiles the largest known source of marine microplastic pollution. These are just some examples of the many ways in which fashion contributes to water consumption and pollution.
Despite various statistics echoed throughout the industry, it is near impossible to accurately sum up fashion’s impact on water – this is not helped by a lack of transparency upstream of the value chain, not only challenging identification of impact but also the necessary actions. Despite lack of comprehensive statistics, fashion’s impact is undeniable – for example, cotton production has been linked to instances such as the dried up South Aral Sea basin.
Currently, most apparel and textile sector water strategies are focused on the direct water impacts of the brands and suppliers in their value chain. But these approaches don’t address all of the water risks the industry faces. Businesses don’t operate in a bubble; they are part of complex societies and reliant on the natural ecosystems that surround them. Since water risks vary from region to region, solutions need to be site-specific.
Alliance for Water Stewardship: Weaving water stewardship into the textile and apparel sector
Multi-stakeholder organisation Alliance for Water Stewardship (AWS) promote a holistic stewarding approach to water use. Water stewardship is a cooperative and multi-stakeholder approach that enables a ‘bigger picture’ perspective by managing a site’s direct water impacts (water management), and then also working with others in the catchment area to address shared water risks and challenges (water stewardship). For example, a dye house in an area experiencing water scarcity may be as efficient and non-polluting as possible, but without working with external stakeholders on both a local (for example, fellow business owners and local agencies) and national level (such as national governments, international NGOs), the site will continue to face water risks.
Whilst water stewardship must happen in places, often these actions are enabled through engagement at the catchment and global level. For this reason AWS formed a global Textiles & Apparel Working Group to ignite and nurture global and local leadership in water stewardship in the sector.
So far, the Textiles and Apparel Working Group has successfully identified key sourcing hubs where members are keen to advance (and, where possible, combine) their water stewardship efforts. This has already initiated a country specific working group in Bangladesh. The group is working to further water stewardship activities through the supply chains of three global textile retailers, in collaboration with local stakeholders from civil society and the public sector.
AWS are seeking to replicate this approach in other key sourcing hubs that are facing significant water risks and that are strategically important for the textiles and apparel sector, such as India, Turkey, and Vietnam. At the core of this approach is the understanding that water stewardship is not about reinventing wheels or creating new approaches, but rather it is about complementing existing efforts.
The International Water Stewardship Standard (AWS Standard) offers a credible, globally applicable framework that allows corporate sustainability strategies to connect on-site actions with an understanding of the local contexts they operate in. It is built on a foundation of collaboration and continual improvement and provides a robust way for water users to work with their stakeholders, both globally and locally in value chain hubs.
By focusing efforts on key hubs identified through the working group, AWS can focus on sharing knowledge and learning with the right stakeholders and build capacity in the right localities for maximum impact.
It is essential that the industry puts water at the heart of a sustainable future and begin tackling the biggest risks to water security for the people and ecosystems in apparel supply chains and beyond.
To contribute to global efforts tackling water security within textile supply chains, apply to join the Textiles & Apparel Working Group here.
The importance of forests – both globally and personally
Forests are often referred to as ‘the lungs of the Earth’ – they are critical for our survival and host to an abundance of benefits for our planet, the wildlife and communities that occupy it. Rainforests are home to a biodiverse array of plant and animal life. In fact, biologists estimate that between 50% and 80% of the world’s biodiversity is found in rainforests, yet they only cover around 6% of the Earth’s land surface. Moreover, many plants used in medicine are found in tropical rainforests.
Crucially, approximately 2.6 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide – one-third of the CO2 released from burning fossil fuels – is absorbed by forests every year.
On a more personal level, forests help to ensure that the air we breathe and the water we drink is clean. Spending time in forests can reap numerous benefits and in the 1980s, the term ‘shinrin-yoku’ originated in Japan, meaning ‘forest bathing’. Forest bathing is seen to offer an eco-antidote to stress and anxiety and to encourage reconnection with nature. The science has since, unsurprisingly, reinforced this claim that time immersed in nature is good for us.
Fashion’s role in deforestation
Mass-produced palm oil and timber have long since rung alarm bells about deforestation, but the intersection of the fashion industry and forests has not always been so clear. Whilst the rainforest and the runway may not conjure up immediate links – they are more interconnected than one might think.
Fashion’s impact on forests is twofold – Over 200 million trees are logged and turned into cellulosic fabric every year and, on top of this, huge areas of forest are cleared annually to make way for cattle pastures to provide both beef and leather. In the Amazon specifically, cattle ranching is a huge driver of deforestation. Brazil, home to the majority of the Amazon rainforest, is one of the world’s top producers of bovine leather and the cattle ranching necessary for this is responsible for 80% of all deforestation in the region.
If tropical deforestation were a country, it would be the third biggest CO2 emitter and research shows that in 2020, 48% of fashion’s supply chain was potentially linked with deforestation. In 2017, Global Fashion Agenda estimated that the fashion industry is projected to use 35% more land for fibre production by 2030 – this amounts to an additional 115 million hectares.
Tree planting initiatives
Tree planting initiatives are commonplace nowadays, be that at the checkout of an online store indicating ‘we plant a tree for every purchase’ or even as viral Instagram trends claiming to plant a tree for every pet picture shared. Aside from the fact that the credibility of these initiatives is sometimes unclear, it is important to consider how effective tree planting might be overall.
Though such initiatives have good intentions, Scientists at Kew Gardens warned that tree planting was often being presented as an easy answer to the climate crisis, and a way out for businesses to mitigate their carbon emissions, but it is not this simple. Misplaced trees can actually do more harm than good by introducing invasive species, displacing native biodiversity, disrupting water cycles and decreasing carbon storage.
Research indicates that restoring natural forests is the best way to remove atmospheric carbon – specifically, natural forests are 40 times more effective than tree planting for storing carbon. Moreover, natural regeneration can provide a home for more species, as well as being significantly cheaper than tree planting.
If tree planting isn’t a failsafe answer to the rampant levels of deforestation taking place today, we must urgently address these rates in the fashion industry and beyond. Forests are being destroyed at the expense of biodiversity, Indigenous Peoples and the climate.
At COP26 in Glasgow, over 100 world leaders (representing countries with more than 85% of the world’s forests) made a commitment to reverse deforestation and land degradation by 2030. In November 2021, the European Commission published a proposal for a regulation on deforestation-free products which aims to impose stricter regulations within the EU market on goods associated with deforestation, including leather.
Increasing numbers of commitments would indicate that change is on the horizon, but we cannot delay action on this pervasive problem.
Find out more about Fashion’s impact on the environment in our Fashion CEO Agenda.