Dr Helen Crowley, Head of Sustainable Sourcing and Nature Initiatives, Kering
Fashion has a major role to play in promoting the proactive and regenerative approach to nature that is now an imperative for the business community.
The last few years have witnessed a rapid shift in our understanding of the importance of biodiversity, not only in terms of our health and our economic and business success but also in our support for a thriving society. Rather than having a single source, this much-needed change has been driven by a convergence of several different factors. The scientific world has clearly communicated the devastating loss of biodiversity, and its causes, while detailed economic analyses have set out the implications of that loss.
At the same time, the importance of nature as a third solution for mitigating climate change, through nature-based solutions and natural climate solutions, has now been accepted. The financial community has also played its part, by focusing on nature-related risks, notably through initiatives such as the Task Force on Nature-related Risk Disclosure. Underlying these moves to reverse nature loss is the firm belief that businesses that adapt and transform to become nature and climate-friendly will benefit from new opportunities.
One of the sectors where creativity and transformation are built into the design of its products is Fashion. Today, it is both an imperative and an opportunity for Fashion to start moving towards being nature-positive in the way its companies meet their material, processing, and manufacturing needs. The sector has a significant environmental footprint but is also highly dependent on nature for its raw materials. Meanwhile, consumers are becoming increasingly aware of Fashion’s negative environmental impact and are demanding more responsibility from the sector.
It means that Fashion’s value proposition now, and in the future, needs to deliver authentic action and outcomes, not only in reducing its negative impacts but also in delivering positive ones for nature, people, and the climate. If Fashion acts for nature, the opportunities will be enormous.
To date, the sector has been working on various elements of environmental sustainability and circularity. The list includes reducing water consumption and pollution during manufacturing, reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions (particularly in Scopes 1 and 2), recycling and upcycling, using materials more efficiently, and managing products’ end-of-life stage. All of these measures are helping us to focus on the impacts and opportunities of biodiversity. However, it is also important to realise that while activities to support nature have clear synergies with actions already underway for climate, water and pollution issues, some key aspects of biodiversity need specific attention.
Nature is certainly complex, and addressing issues of impact around genetic diversity, species, ecosystems, and Nature’s contribution to people can seem overwhelming. But the good news is that many tools, approaches, methodologies are already available, and more are being developed, notably the Science-based Targets for Nature (SBTN). These will enable Fashion companies to act appropriately, and this handbook will, of course, provide essential guidance in that process. As the field of ‘Fashion for Nature’ is rapidly evolving, it will also be important for people in the sector to remain engaged with the various platforms, including The Fashion Pact, Corporate Engagement Platform for SBTN, the Textile Exchange, and London College of Fashion’s Fashion Values initiative.
Sustained, targeted action will be needed to eliminate toxic water pollution, whether chemical or microplastic and to build greater efficiency in the use of water, energy, and material resources. Supported by circular design principles, all of these can reduce the negative impacts on Nature. However, one of the most important areas for immediate focus is arguably the production of raw materials. Kering has shown that this can represent around 70% of an organisation’s total environmental footprint and can have a significant effect on biodiversity, as well as being a major source of GHG emissions.
The challenge now is to reduce those impacts and to create opportunities to regenerate, restore and protect nature. The solution to that challenge lies in the sector’s approach to its raw materials, particularly those coming from nature – through the use of sustainable forestry and wild fibres, for example – and those depending on nature’s services to agriculture, such as cotton, cashmere, wool, leather, hemp, and linen.
The upside of taking a nature-friendly approach to raw materials, one that is wildlife-friendly and based on regenerative agriculture, is that it can deliver for the climate and for people through a suite of ‘co-benefits’. It also provides an exciting, compelling, and authentic foundation on which Fashion can build a new value proposition.
Fashion has long been inspired and driven by Nature, but it has also been extracted from Nature. We have drawn down our natural capital and are now seriously in debt. It’s time to seize the opportunities that will come from reconnecting with Nature in a more profound way and to start paying back by doing business in a way that invests in its regeneration, restoration, and protection.