Saving our Forests with Fashion

Jun. 22, 2018When you hear about deforestation, you might think of logging machinery plowing through the Amazon and hauling logs off to paper and lumber mills, not leggings and sundresses. The fashion industry is a less talked about MAJOR player in the market for freshly logged trees though, and it cuts down a whopping 150 million of them a year for fabric.



Though fabrics like rayon and viscose technically come from plant sources instead of petroleum, they’re not necessarily more sustainable — that stretchy cami could have very well come from an endangered ancient forest.

As the world becomes more aware of the problem, one organization is leading the charge and is starting with some of the biggest fabric buyers in the world to save the most ancient forests on the planet from destruction.

 

How Fabric Can Cause Deforestation

Some of the most common fibers you picture as being bad for the planet stem from petroleum-based sources. Materials like polyester and spandex definitely take their environmental toll and won’t break down in a landfill to boot.

However, there’s a whole category of fabrics that are super common in major fashion brands that are actually made from tree pulp. Fabrics like rayon and viscose are actually made out of trees, milled and processed into fibers that are turned into the latest fashions.

Part of the problem is the average consumer moves too fast. Not only are these fabrics made from trees, but they’re being produced at a rate that’s barely able to keep up with the demand. The average American buys 70 new pieces of clothing every year, with 85% winding up in the landfill that first year.

As consumers clamor for more cheap fashion, it’s estimated that the number of trees logged for fabrics will double to 300 million in the next ten years. Even more frustrating is that the process of making these fabrics doesn’t even use most of the tree it harvests — 70% ends up as a waste product.

It’s a wasteful process from production to putting it on, and it’s tearing down our world’s forests. Even natural fibers like eucalyptus can sometimes be the culprit, as forests are cleared to make way for expansive groves to meet the growing fiber demand.

Meet Canopy

The problem surrounding fast fashion’s abuses of the forests is a daunting one, but speaking with Canopy founder Nicole Rycroft last week, I could see that there is hope.

For the past 15 years, this scrappy organization has gone from a small team making cold calls to an impressive organization that’s making enormous strides in the fight to make fashion more sustainable.

We see environmental problems that are so profound, so daunting, it’s hard to imagine a positive outcome. Talk to Nicole for a few minutes, and you’ll see that we’re capable of changing everything.

 

What They Do

Canopy is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation and protection of the planet’s endangered and ancient forests. Though their recent work has been to focus on the textiles industry, they also work closely with publishers and printers to ensure that the materials they source for their books and publications are harvested from sustainable forests.

The crazy part?

This organization isn’t just lobbying government and crossing their fingers — they’re reaching out directly to the bigwigs who run some of the world’s largest brands and making a case for sustainability not just being ethical, but practical.

Together, they pitch companies on better ways of sourcing fibers. Rather than just pleading with them to change their ways and figure it out on their own, they work with companies from start to finish to help them figure out the logistics behind securing more sustainable materials.

“Just because I work with this organization doesn’t mean that I care more than the people who work within fashion companies or publishing,” says Nicole.

“Business leaders are increasingly stepping forward into leadership positions in sustainability. They recognize that security of the resources their businesses are based on is just good business sense.”

It’s one part passion for the planet, one part practical approach to profits, and it’s catching on.


Canopy has successfully worked with 161 fashion brands alone (a list that continues to grow) to create policies and procedures that ensure their fabrics aren’t destroying one of the world’s most precious resources, eco-diverse endangered forests.

With third-party verification through the Rainforest Alliance to ensure businesses are implementing the policies they’re creating, Canopy is showing them how doing the right thing is good for their brand.

“If these were simple issues to solve, we would have already solved them, but we’re at a turning point. We know what the problem is, and we have ways of redirecting the supply chain now before it doubles and causes irreparable damage to the planet.”

 

Bringing Profits and Planet Together

Speaking with Nicole was off-the-charts inspiring. You get so used to hearing about how corporations are destroying the planet, and here was an environmentalist partnering with them to save it. I asked her if she ever ran into disbelief that it could work this way.

“You definitely run into the dichotomy sometimes,” she said. “People have a hard time believing there can be any middle ground between doing what’s right for the planet and right for a business. We’re helping companies to bridge that gap, creating solutions that make sense for them and also preserve our ecosystems.”

This is a situation unlike any other I’ve seen with an environmental organization — Canopy isn’t compelling or pleading with companies to do better, they’re making a sensible case for doing it.

In addition to their work in educating business executives and supply chain coordinators on their environmental impacts, they’re putting their funds into research and development of new fiber technologies in the hopes of diversifying the fiber basket, lightening the load on our planet’s forests.

Fabrics made from recycled clothing and straw, a food waste product, are now being worked on by smart people in lab coats, in the hopes of giving big companies like H&M and Levi Strauss eco-friendly options to pull from.

How You Can Help

Ready to be a part of the change? It’s easier than you might think!

 

Support Forest-friendly Brands

Vote with your dollar and show companies that sustainable supply choices don’t just protect the planet, but their bottom line too. If your favorite clothing brand isn’t on Canopy’s list, tell them you want them on it!

 

Be a Pickier Shopper

Don’t be the person who throws away 60 pieces of clothing a year. Buy what you need and go for quality clothing that will LAST.

 

Learn to Sew

Instead of throwing away and replacing, repair what can be repaired.

 

Recycle Worn out Clothes

If it’s too worn out even for the thrift store, look into recycling and take-back programs (like this one from H&M).

 

Lend them Your Likes

Social media algorithms can be a game-changer for organizations like Canopy. Like them on their social media channels to improve their chances of being noticed by more people!

 

Make a Donation

It takes a lot of time and money to make big waves like this. Support Canopy by donating or making a purchase during the month of June with Avocado Green Mattress.

SUPPORT CANOPY

 

Share the link to this article on Facebook or Instagram and tag @canopyplanetand @avocadomattress in the post — you might just change the world!

 

Destiny Hagest

By Destiny Hagest

 —  Destiny is a freelance writer with a background in sustainability and natural health. She lives in the mountains of central Montana with her husband and young son. When she's not writing or chasing her toddler, you can find her wandering the quiet wilderness in search of wild herbs and antler sheds.

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