by John Russel Jones

As we’re headed into Saturday’s Earth Day 2023, sustainability stories are rolling in fast and furious, and we’re happy to spread the news. The fashion industry (not that we’re alone) has been responsible for all sorts of irresponsible behavior in the past, but it’s nice to see that it’s also at the forefront of change for the better.

To that point, Canopy, a non-profit that has partnered with over 900 global brands, from H&M Group and Zara, Stella McCartney, and LVMH, will receive $60 million in funding from The Audacious Project to catalyze the commercial production of low-carbon and circular solutions across the globe. Such a move will have planetary impacts on the climate and biodiversity. Canopy will use the funds for the widespread transformation of the paper, packaging, and fashion viscose supply chains.

Canopy will utilize the funds to accelerate the commercial-scale production of low-impact and circular clothing, paper, and packaging solutions that don’t rely on pulp from ancient and endangered forests. These Next Gen solutions are derived from what is usually landfilled (waste textile, waste food scraps), or burned (agricultural residues), to create new fabrics, paper, pulp, and packaging.

“The audacious work being done by Canopy is not only transforming carbon-intensive supply chains at a critical juncture for our planet but with a network of engaged and willing partners, some truly exciting and innovative solutions can now be delivered at scale,” said Anna Verghese, Executive Director at The Audacious Project. “We are excited about the change they will catalyze over the coming years with this surge in support.”

An initiative of TED (as in the people who bring you TEDTalks), The Audacious Project is a collaborative funding initiative that drives social impact on a grand scale. Every year, it selects a group of bold solutions to the world’s most urgent challenges. This year, Canopy was one of the selectees for its critical work in advancing vital forest-free supply chains.

Next Gen alternatives such as those that Canopy champions have on average 95% to 130% less GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions, 88% to 100% less land use impacts, and 5x lower impact on biodiversity.

By 2033, Canopy’s work will:

  • Unlock over 60,000,000 tonnes (metric tons, 1 metric ton = over 1.1 US tons) of low-carbon NextGen fiber production
  • Avoid 1.3 billion tonnes of emissions (almost twice the annual emissions of Germany)
  • Divert nearly 800 million tonnes of agricultural residue and waste textiles from being burned or landfilled (equivalent to the weight of 76,000 Eiffel Towers)
  • Completely eliminate the use of ancient and endangered forests in the paper, packaging, and fashion viscose supply chains

“We are very proud to be included in this year’s group of Audacious grantees and believe that Canopy’s creative, collaborative, and transformative work will be key in driving supply chain change at scale and, in turn, provide a reprieve to critical forests that are under current and future threats, within the next decade and beyond,” said Canopy’s Executive Founder and Executive Director, Nicole Rycroft.

“We are very glad to see Canopy’s leadership and commitment to finding scalable solutions for the industry being recognized. Moving towards more sustainable alternatives for our materials and packaging is crucial in our journey toward circularity. Innovative low-carbon solutions, such as regenerated cellulosic fibers from waste textiles or agricultural residues, are showing the potential to reduce our impact on climate and protect forests, so no ancient and endangered forests are put at risk to make fashion. Together with Canopy and other industry leaders, we want to use our size and scale to continue driving demand for low-carbon material solutions while building scalability faster,” said Leyla Ertur, Head of Sustainability H&M Group.

Conserving and restoring forests has been identified as a significant part of the solution to the growing climate crisis. Forests are a massive carbon sink, absorbing a net 7.6 billion metric tonnes of CO2 yearly – 1.5 times more carbon than the United States emits annually. Despite this, over five billion trees are cut down yearly for paper, packaging, and fashion fabrics alone, many from the world’s oldest, most carbon- and biodiversity-rich forests.

Photo by Nam Quân Nguyễn.