The fashion industry is contributing to the degradation of the world’s biodiversity and undermining nature’s ability to provide ecosystem services to society, according to a report released by IUCN, the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
The report, Biodiversity Risks and Opportunities in the Apparel Sector, identifies the biggest culprits in the industry’s value chain and puts forward recommendations on how companies can support biodiversity conservation, while minimising their own risks.
The industry’s significant impact on nature is rooted in the production of raw materials such as cotton, which uses water and pesticides intensively, or viscose, which uses wood pulp, contributing to deforestation. Manufacturing processes can also seriously affect nature – the dyeing and treatment of textiles, for example, produces around 17-20% of all industrial water pollution, as well as substantial greenhouse gas emissions.
“The fashion industry impacts nature hugely. Cotton production, for one, is responsible for 22.5% of all insecticide use globally, and its intensive irrigation has destroyed ecosystems like the Aral Sea in Central Asia,” said IUCN’s Giulia Carbone, who led the study. “Fortunately, this report identifies opportunities to address these negative impacts.”
Clear conservation commitments are key, and should include deforestation-free value chains, promoting land restoration, substituting hazardous chemicals with less toxic ones, and sustainable water management, according to the report. Industry should also use credible certification schemes in its supply chains, develop a sustainable use strategy and integrate sustainability into the conceptual phase of product development, the report suggests.
Drawing on discussions and lessons learned from IUCN’s collaboration with Hugo Boss in 2015, the report proposes industry use a risk assessment framework.
“Assessing the risk to biodiversity in a company’s operations and supply chain is the most effective approach to managing and reducing biodiversity impacts,” said Gerd von Podewils, Senior Vice President, Global Communication for Hugo Boss AG, which contributed to the report. “There is a growing awareness in the fashion industry about the environmental and social sustainability challenges it faces, and with that awareness comes the responsibility to act.”
The report acknowledges that the apparel sector’s value chain is complex due to its global distribution and diverse range of sources and types of raw materials used, manufacturing facilities and consumer markets. Yet at each stage, unsustainable business operations pose risks to the company’s overall performance.
As the report confirms, positive action in this area can help reduce a company’s risks and maximize benefits for biodiversity conservation, ecosystem services and local livelihoods.
For more information about Hugo Boss’s approach to sustainability, click here.