A biodiversity-focused strategy

What can the textile and fashion system do?

Biodiversity in natural ecosystems is declining at a rate unprecedented in human history. The degradation affects society as a whole, including companies in the fashion industry which crucially depend on the availability of natural raw materials such as wool, cotton, cashmere, linen, and cellulose fibres from forest trees and can endanger global supply chains. Therefore, preserving biodiversity is a primary interest of the fashion industry.


What can companies in the fashion supply chain do to stop degradation or, even better, regenerate what has been lost?


The IFC (International Finance Corporation), the operational arm of the World Bank, which finances private investment in developing countries, has provided a 4-step framework for actions aimed at mitigating corporate impacts on biodiversity. The IFC approach is inspiring the strategies of large fashion brands in recent years that have begun to influence the supply chain. The 4 stages are:


Avoid: The company can avoid contributing to the loss of biodiversity by choosing materials that do not have a negative impact on areas at risk or are important for the conservation of biodiversity. An example is a choice to use only certified cellulosic fibres (FSC or PEFC) or comply with the Canopy style criteria from responsibly managed forests that ban the sourcing from ancient forests threatened by deforestation or where indigenous communities are threatened. Another example is the use of recycled fibres which avoids the negative impact on the biodiversity of new crops or livestock.


Minimize: Where it is not possible to avoid the impact, companies can choose materials and production processes that minimize it thanks to the application of new technologies or methods of cultivation and breeding, the containment of monocultures, the reduction of the surfaces of cultivated land and the release of potentially polluting substances from farms. Examples are choosing cotton grown with reduced use of pesticides and water, such as Better Cotton or organically grown cotton, wool and other animal fibres from responsibly managed farms, or adopting predator control practices that do not endanger the species' survival.


Regenerate: In this stage, companies are expected the have a positive rather than negative impact, going beyond the mitigation to restore and regenerate the ecosystems that have suffered biodiversity losses affected by their supply chain. The main tool is the adoption of regenerative agriculture techniques, which focus on improving the quality and vitality of agricultural soil and the water cycle, the sequestration and biological storage of CO2 and the increase in the resilience to climate change. Fashion companies can promote regenerative solutions in projects carried out in collaboration with agricultural scientists, botanists and foresters and based on solid scientific principles. Examples of brands that have taken this path are Gucci, Patagonia, Timberland, Vans and North Face.


Offset and promote systemic transformation: finally, fashion companies can go beyond the mitigation of impacts and the regeneration of their own supply chains to engage in projects that have a systemic positive impact and permanently transform the relationship between nature and the fashion supply chain. This stage requires working on collective projects in which fashion companies collaborate on large-scale projects, which generally are not linked to specific production chains; the privileged areas for actions that fall into this stage are initiatives by international bodies such as the UN or sectoral alliances and common projects by private organisations such as the Fashion Pact which has the Biodiversity among its primary objectives or the California Cotton & Climate Coalition (C4) which connects fashion brands with cotton producers involved in regenerative agriculture projects.