Fashion’s Impact on our Forests

By Elizabeth Sullivan and Amanda Carr

You probably know that the trees once lived in by endangered orangutans could be hanging in your closet right now. Many fabrics like rayon, viscose and modal are made from trees! Canopy has calculated that over 150 million trees are logged and turned into fabric every year. If placed end to end, these trees would circle our earth’s equator seven times over.

Fashion’s footprint on forests is beginning to encroach on pristine forest landscapes like Indonesia’s awe-inspiring Leuser ecosystem, the last place on Earth where you can still find orangutans, elephants, tigers and rhinos living in one place. Canada’s Boreal forest, another landscape under threat. It is home to vast forest ecosystems that still haven’t been logged, acting as a green carbon storehouse for our survival. The Boreal is home to iconic animals like the woodland caribou and the solitary wolverine. Loss of our last remaining intact forest landscapes is an issue that touches everyone, from the indigenous communities who are experiencing the impacts of deforestation and illegal logging on their ancestral lands, to habitat loss for endangered animals, right down to the air that you and I breathe and the climate stability that regulates our food production. It’s a big problem, and with fast fashion increasingly shaping our purchasing behaviours, we need big solutions.

Fortunately, the counter-trend rapidly catching on is forward-thinking fashion brands including Zara, Stella McCartney, Levi’s, Patagonia, and H&M, committed to eliminating Ancient and Endangered Forests from their fabric supply chain and working towards exciting new solutions.

These companies are part of a cadre of 160+ global fashion and apparel brands that make up the CanopyStyle initiative. We collaborate with these brands by providing tools and information to help them keep ancient forests out of their garments. Together, we also work toward long term sourcing solutions. Innovation exists to make these same fabrics by replacing virgin wood fibre with your old unusable clothes instead. Leftover straw, that is all too often burned or landfilled after the harvest of agricultural crops, is also an option for replacing endangered forests as a feedstock for fashion.

The collaboration is beginning to pay off for the world’s forests.The CanopyStyle brands have a market share of US$174 billion, and are using their influence and market leverage to help secure protection for vast, intact forest ecosystems. The Great Bear Rainforest Agreements are a good example of how this market power can be a force for good. British Columbia’s Great Bear Rainforest is one of the most rare and pristine landscapes in the world. In the late 1990’s, after decades of destructive clearcutting that showed no sign of slowing down, the environmental community, along with local indigenous communities launched a campaign to protect the rainforest. After decades-long negotiations between Indigenous and Provincial governments, logging companies, and environmental organizations, an historic agreement was reached in 2016. It was the first of it’s kind, included all parties standing together to end logging in 85 percent of the 6.4 million hectare Great Bear Rainforest. Canopy supported the process and negotiations by bringing our signature market leverage to the effort at key junctures, bolstering negotiations and empowering government action. Thanks to the amazing work of everyone involved, we now have a robust model that can be used to protect what Canopy calls ‘Landscapes of Hope’ around the world.

As an ethical buyer, one thing to watch out for when brands claim that their material is sustainable is where the fibre comes from. For example, eucalyptus fibre is often touted as an all-round sustainable option, but where the eucalyptus comes from matters. Eucalyptus is often grown on concessions that have had natural forest cleared and carbon rich peatlands drained, causing massive social and environmental concerns. However grown in the right place, under the right conditions, eucalyptus can be fabulous! It always pays to dig a little deeper and asking your favourite brands about what they are doing to stop Ancient and Endangered Forests showing up in their supply chains is one of the best things you can do to help create the mandate for change.

So what can you do to help protect the world’s Ancient and Endangered Forests? Follow Canopy on social media or sign on to our newsletter for updates on the initiative and new brand sign ons, check our ever-growing list of CanopyStyle partners for your favourite brands, and if you don’t see them on our list, ask your preferred brands to sign on! Together we can make sure that fashion doesn’t have to cost the Earth, and do our own parts to protect the world’s forests. Let’s get that orangutan off your back and out of your closet!

Photo by Mabel Amber