The clothing industry is becoming more conscious of its environmental impact. However, the focus must go beyond climate change.
Sustainable fashion is a broad term that encompasses all products, processes, activities, and actors working toward a carbon-neutral fashion industry premised on equality, social justice, animal welfare, and ecological integrity. As a result, the fashion industry is heavily reliant on biodiversity, particularly in the production and processing of all the various materials used to make our clothes, as well as the materials used for packaging.
Let us decode what biodiversity is? And Why is it important?
Biodiversity refers to ‘living nature’; the living skin of the entire planet, including animals, plants, the habitats and ecosystems in which they live, and how they interact with one another. Our skin holds us together and allows us to breathe, move, create, and interact with the world. Everything we wear – clothing, accessories, jewellery, and footwear – is made from materials found in nature. Fashion’s primary function is to clothe society, and it draws on nature for both aesthetic inspiration and raw materials: we make products from plants, animals, insects, oils, minerals, and metals. We create florals, leaf prints, landscapes, and skeletons inspired by and made from nature’s resources. A biodiverse ecosystem provides an incredible palette for manufacturers to work with.
What is the relationship between fashion and biodiversity?
The first step for the fashion industry is to develop a biodiversity strategy in tandem with climate decision-making. Determine what is desired from an enterprise biodiversity strategy (business resilience, reputation risk, impact reduction), then assess baseline conditions and understand biodiversity impacts and dependencies. Once these have been identified, a company can prioritise and select actions, set science-based targets, and then implement them. There are tools available, such as the Natural Capital Protocol, which includes a sector guide specifically for apparel, to assist businesses in identifying, valuing, and measuring their natural capital impacts and dependencies. Growing, processing, and innovating with biodiverse species has made all of its materials fashionable, including cotton, linen, bast fibres, regenerated cellulosic, and silk, among many others. Even materials that are not derived from living species, such as oil-based synthetics or metals, are extracted from biodiversity-supporting environments.
What role does the fashion industry play in biodiversity loss? or what is its function?
For several years, apparel companies have been active in the fight against climate change, launching a slew of carbon-neutral initiatives. Biodiversity is a separate but related concern. Climate change and biodiversity loss are interdependent and mutually reinforcing—one accelerates the other, and vice versa. Protecting forests, for example, could help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. We have a good understanding of how each part of the apparel value chain affects biodiversity success can be attributed to our analysis of quantitative impact indicators and interviews with industry experts. The majority of the negative impact is attributed to three stages in the value chain: raw-material production, material preparation and processing, and end-of-life. The fashion industry is heavily reliant on biodiversity, primarily through the production and processing of all the various materials used to make our clothes, as well as materials used for packaging. The fashion industry has a significant negative impact on biodiversity, both during the manufacturing process and during wear, care, and disposal.
What measures can be taken to combat biodiversity loss?
There are numerous fashion practices that promote biodiversity, fashion can begin to reverse its destructive relationship with biodiversity, instead focusing on enabling the preservation and restoration of damaged ecosystems. These include, among other things, restoring the health of working agricultural lands, providing farmers with economic incentives for good practices, institutionalizing carbon emission reductions, mainstreaming traceability and blockchain, and promoting certifications and holistic management. Other effective measures such as biodiversity strategy, sourcing and diversifying fibres and regenerative agriculture are great alternatives.
How can we as consumers help in this?
Buy better while spending less. Reduce your fashion footprint by extending the life of your existing clothing. Choose items that you adore and will be happy to keep in your closet for a long time. Investigate how clothing companies source and process raw materials as an investigative shopper. Shop secondhand and support important community programmes. When doing laundry, use cold water to reduce the number of microfibres released during the process. Finally, before throwing away clothing items, consider having them altered or repaired, donating them to people in need, and looking for responsible ways to recycle items that are no longer in use.
As a result, redirecting personal spending toward responsible fashion will contribute significantly to realizing the vision of living in harmony with nature. We can ensure that the growing interest in sustainable fashion is more than a passing fad by encouraging more apparel brands to think seriously about sustainability and holding them accountable.
Photo by Coralie Meurice on Unsplash