Coming Full Circle: Innovating towards Sustainable Man-Made Cellulosic Fibres
Given the rising importance of MMCFs in the future fashion system, yet the persisting problems of virgin resource depletion and generation of textile waste, it is extremely important that the future value chain transitions to a more sustainable and circular one. There have recently been an emergence of initiatives that aim to address those problems and lay out a vision for a future system – notably Canopy’s Next Generation Action Plan.
THE NEXT GENERATION ACTION PLAN
Canopy – the environmental organisation working to protect forests worldwide, conceived their Next Generation Action Plan to protect the 182 million tonnes of virgin wood fibre that are used for paper pulp annually, as well as the 3.3 million tonnes of wood that originate from ancient and endangered forests in the production of viscose pulp annually38. The Plan proposes the elimination of 70% of the pulp fibres coming from forests never-before logged and 30% of the pulp fibres from plantations that endanger rich carbon stores and terrestrial biodiversity.
Canopy’s aim to displace Ancient and Endangered Forest Pulp from supply chains can be characterised by the 5R’s: Reduce/Reuse, Recycle, Replace & Regenerate.
REDUCE AND REUSE: Reduce consumption on the demand side of the supply chain through creative design and delivery systems and extend the lifespan of products such as shipping boxes and T-shirts.
RECYCLE: Increase the amount of recycled paper fibre in products
REPLACE: Replace a significant amount of wood pulp with alternative fibre sources such as:
- Agricultural residues and fibre crops for paper
- Waste cotton and rayon scraps and used garments for recycling into new viscose.
- Microbial cellulose fibre for viscose grown from food waste.
From the graph aside, we see that the replace section is the most significant lever in transition to the Next Generation, whilst having large innovation potential, thus making it the subject of this report and associated Fashion for Good Full Circle Textiles Project.
REGENERATE: Plant new trees for wood pulp to fill the supply gap resulting from the restoration of priority forests that have been degraded.
The Next Generation Action Plan proposed enables a radical reduction in the extraction of raw resources, optimises material efficiency, leads to better product reuse and shifts the use of conventional high-impact fibre sources to alternative, less damaging fibre sources (or better still, regenerative feedstocks) for manufacturing pulp for paper and viscose fabric goods.
The transformation of the global wood pulp supply chain proposed by Canopy requires significant investment, to the tune of $69 billion over a 10-year period39. However, given the uncertainty about future wood supply, diversifying the fibre basket for pulp is a salient business proposition as well as an imperative environmental strategy. Moreover, building and retrofitting mills can provide additional benefits such as economic development in rural regions and underemployed urban areas.
“Next generation solutions are the path to meeting the climate and biodiversity targets that scientists are calling for by 2030. We’ve seen promising momentum in recent years as we’ve worked with brands, producers and innovators to build strong market demand and Identified a great pipeline of game changing technologies. Now we need investment and broad industry adoption to make these Next Gen Solutions a commercially available reality.”
Nicole Rycroft Founder and Executive Director, Canopy
Textile Exchange and Forum for the Future echo the ambitious action plan and progress to date of Canopy; proposing the vision of a MMCF production system that contributes to the strengthening of our social foundations and the regeneration of our ecological systems40. The interdependent and mutually reinforcing pillars of the 2030 MMCF system are as follows:
- Regenerating ecosystems: Restoring natural ecosystems, ensuring a carbon negative value chain and taking regenerative landscape approaches.
- Producing with zero harm: Managing chemicals and other inputs, zero emissions and closed-loop production systems.
- Enabling circular systems: Designing, incentivising and implementing circular value chains and zero waste.
- Creating prosperity: Distributing economic value equitably, applying living wage and equality, universal access to education and healthcare.
- Upholding rights: Community empowerment and related access rights, protecting the rights of individuals, indigenous people and other communities.
In order to achieve the vision outlined, there are ten key enablers highlighted; including collaboration across the value chain, accelerating innovation, sharing best practices and the introduction of novel forms and flows of financing.
Whilst the action plan proposed by Canopy and the vision from Textile Exchange and Forum for the Future are far-reaching and require a systemic shift in the MMCF value chain, there are a number of disruptive innovative solutions being pursued by established brands and start-ups alike, with support from the likes of Fashion for Good and Canopy. The ones highlighted in this report address the ‘replace’ bucket – that is, producing fibres through alternative feedstocks, in doing so also enabling a circular system through the use of otherwise ‘waste’ produce.