- The fashion industry is intrinsically linked to nature through its use of raw materials like cotton, wool, gold and viscose.
- This connection to the natural world means it has an obligation to embed sustainably across fashion's supply chains while helping to tackle climate change and loss of biodiversity.
- The CEO Carbon Neutral Challenge is a solution and call to action to address carbon emissions through nature-based solutions immediately.
Biodiversity is finally having its moment in the climate conversation. There is a groundswell of recognition that biodiversity loss and climate change are interconnected, and, that our future lives – and livelihoods – are intrinsically linked to the protection and restoration of nature.
The recent Dasgupta Review pointed out just how much our economies are dependent on nature. This follows on from the World Economic Forum report last year, Nature Risk Rising: Why the Crisis Engulfing Nature Matters for Business and the Economy, outlining the economic risk of the degradation and loss of nature. We also can’t ignore the connection between nature conservation and human health given the COVID-19 pandemic.
So, if it wasn’t crystal clear before, it is now: nature and its services are essential for a thriving society, not to mention a functioning one. And, for the majority of our businesses around the world, healthy and functioning biodiversity is also critical for their continued success.
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In the luxury and fashion sector, this relationship is even more straightforward. We rely on industries like agriculture, mining and forestry for our raw materials – for example, cotton, wool, gold and viscose. Essentially, this is where biodiversity meets our business. It is obvious to deduce then that protecting and restoring biodiversity, particularly in the face of the climate emergency, is intrinsically linked to ensuring supply chain resilience for our sector ongoing.
Yet, even though fashion is reliant on a functioning nature, it – like most sectors – continues to decouple business operations from the reality that the natural resources we use are finite. Beyond being a moral duty, it is arguably a business imperative to seriously pull back on what is typically described as a “take, make, use, waste” system in fashion and instead foster a more circular approach that is striving to become nature-positive. Building resilience into our supply chains by safeguarding nature will ultimately help guarantee economic resilience into the future too.
As fashion CEOs, we can take decisions to strategically shift our business approaches to drive positive impacts for nature: rather than just limiting ourselves to reducing our impacts, we can also protect and restore nature. In this way we can move towards being nature-positive. Given that our sector is responsible for a significant share of environmental impacts, including an estimated 4-10% of global carbon emissions, fashion has to become a critical player in the drive towards a nature-positive and net-zero carbon economy. It is through natural climate solutions that we can rapidly act and effectively deliver positive outcomes for both nature and climate.
When we consider that around 90% of fashion’s environmental impacts fall within the supply chain – at Gucci this was the case in 2019 – there is alot we need to do. But, we must do more than just reduce what we can, while we wait for innovation and technological advancements to catch up to mitigate the rest. In the meantime, our companies continue to generate the bulk of their annual emissions along the supply chain year after year.
All companies can easily choose to act now and become carbon neutral immediately – not by 2040 or 2050. We cannot afford to wait until then to fix the climate and nature crises. It will be too late. The scientific community has been clear that we have 10 years left to launch the necessary actions to reverse biodiversity loss and climate change. Is it not then our responsibility – and in our best interests – to intervene in every way we can? If we had acted on the science 10 years ago, society would have needed to reduce emissions by 3.3% each year. Instead, global emissions will need to fall by around 7.6% every year in this decade in order to limit warming to less than 1.5°C above pre-industrial temperatures. Every year we fail to act, the level of difficulty and cost to reduce emissions goes up.
Investing in natural climate solutions
Recognizing this urgent need to act and bring attention to the link between nature and climate, I launched the CEO Carbon Neutral Challenge a little over a year ago. Taking responsibility for the total greenhouse gas emissions we generate from our business activities across the supply chain, and translating the emissions we aren’t able to mitigate every year into natural climate solutions investments is a straightforward commitment that can be taken immediately. There is literally nothing stopping companies from making a contribution to nature and climate, aside from the decision to finance it.
These natural climate solutions represent over one-third of the overall climate solution, yet they currently only receive 1-3% of climate funding. With business leaders supporting and implementing natural climate solutions both within and beyond our supply chains their potential can be unlocked. Otherwise, they will continue to diminish year in and year out, as will their ability to help protect society from the global biodiversity and climate crises. So, while the cost can seem significant now, it is nothing to the costs we will incur in the future. I believe we cannot afford not to finance natural climate solutions in our companies.
One of the most powerful natural climate solutions that the fashion industry can help catalyze is a transformation of the agricultural production systems within our supply chains – we can literally use our own supply chains to create positive outcomes for nature. We can help shift raw materials production to more regenerative approaches and away from chemically-intensive production. This means decreased carbon emissions and pollution, as well as healthier soil, increased biodiversity and, significantly, the removal of carbon from the atmosphere, which is essential in the fight against climate change.
A recent study showed that more than 100% of global annual CO2 emissions could be sequestered with a switch to regenerative agriculture. While this may be optimistic, scientists agree that shifting agricultural practices can have a significant benefit for biodiversity and climate. Given that fashion is fundamentally agriculture-based it is even more important for our industry to be part of a wider movement towards net-zero and nature-positive.
Regenerative agriculture should undoubtedly be the future for fashion’s global supply chains. However, it is essential here to ensure this growing space is monitored and fulfils its huge potential. There are also tremendous opportunities to go beyond our supply chains and leverage broader change through a climate strategy aligning with the CEO Carbon Neutral Challenge.
The nature-based carbon credits stipulated in the Challenge’s “guiding principles” can incorporate “carbon farming” initiatives alongside the more traditional forest carbon credits. While farmers transition to regenerative practices, carbon credits can be generated which, in turn, directly provide incentives for farmers to take on the risk of transitioning their practices. It’s a brilliant win-win-win solution: farmers benefit, the land benefits, and climate and nature benefit. In doing so, we can all help nature move from being a victim of climate to becoming a powerful actor for change.
Find out about Gucci’s new Natural Climate Solutions Portfolio
How does the World Economic Forum encourage biological diversity?
In the last 100 years, more than 90 percent of crop varieties have disappeared from farmers’ fields, and all of the world’s 17 main fishing grounds are now being fished at or above their sustainable limits.
These trends have reduced diversity in our diets, which is directly linked to diseases or health risk factors, such as diabetes, obesity and malnutrition.
One initiative which is bringing a renewed focus on biological diversity is the Tropical Forest Alliance.
This global public-private partnership is working on removing deforestation from four global commodity supply chains – palm oil, beef, soy, and pulp and paper.
The Alliance includes businesses, governments, civil society, indigenous people and communities, and international organizations.
Enquire to become a member or partner of the Forum and help stop deforestation linked to supply chains.