Safeguarding biodiversity

A new challenge for fashion brands

The journey of the fashion supply chain to reduce the environmental impact has progressed through various stages, from chemical safety, to the the fight against climate change via the reduction of the carbon footprint, eventually to the adoption, still limited to a few cases, of circular production business models, with particular attention to the recycling of materials.


A new theme is now emerging in the panorama of fashion brands sustainable strategies: biodiversity.


The term biodiversity derives from the contraction of the two English words "biological diversity". It was coined in 1988 by the American entomologist Edward O. Wilson. According to the Istituto Superiore per la Protezione e la Ricerca Ambientale (ISPRA) Biodiversity can be defined as "the wealth of life on earth: the millions of plants, animals and microorganisms, the genes they contain, the complex ecosystems that they constitute. in the biosphere ".


It is not, in fact, a completely new theme for fashion. In the first decade of this century, the issue was addressed by top international luxury and beauty brands in relation to the extinction of animal species for the supply of exotic skins, and of rare plant essences for the production of cosmetics.


Today, the interest in biodiversity is spreading far beyond the two niches of exotic leathers and beauty and affects the entire textile industry, in relation to procurement of materials, dyeing processes and the release of microplastics.


As for cotton, for example, the impact on biodiversity derives from the intense use of insecticides and pesticides. Cotton cultivation accounts for 22.5% of the world's insecticide use, more than any other single crop, and 10% of all pesticide use (McKinsey, 2020).


Another example is manmade cellulosic fibers, such as viscose. According to, Canopy (2020) more than 150 million trees are used each year for the production of manmade cellulose and an estimated 50 million come from primary and endangered forests.


Finally, we cannot fail to mention the (still controversial) problem of the release of microplastics into the oceans which puts the life of aquatic organisms at risk. We talked about it here.


While much has been written about the impact of the fashion industry on climate change and the impact of hazardous chemicals on health, less has so far been written about the impact on biodiversity loss. A study by McKinsey (2020) argues that the fashion industry “contributes significantly to the loss of biodiversity. Clothing supply chains are directly linked to soil degradation, the conversion of natural ecosystems and the pollution of waterways ”. The study also warns us that biodiversity is declining at a faster rate than ever: one million species, between 12% and 20% of the total existing species are at risk of extinction.


There is a very rational explanation of the interest in biodiversity and the practical importance of avoiding its reduction: we rely on it for the production of food, the quality of the air, the availability of water to regulate the climate. Finally, the very quality of the land on which textile fibers are produced depends on the conservation of biodiversity.