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A new biodiversity baseline for the textile industry

Understanding where the industry is currently at, and what the barriers and enablers are to the uptake of best practices, is an important first step.

clothing in forest


After five years of corporate benchmarking focusing on driving a race to the top in preferred materials, Textile Exchange has extended the scope of its program to cover the vital area of biodiversity. Biodiversity action is a key component of a raw materials business strategy and can provide climate benefits as well as benefits to nature and people.

The goal of the benchmark, which we introduced earlier this year, is to bring Textile Exchange's Climate+ approach (where the "plus" includes biodiversity, water and soil health) to the center of the textile industry’s action for material change. The just-launched Biodiversity Insights Report, incorporating data shared by 157 companies, sets the first baseline for the industry.

New understandings to drive action

According to the report, 51 percent of fashion and textile companies recognize biodiversity loss as a priority risk. It presents data submitted through our Biodiversity Benchmark to provide an industry-specific assessment of how fashion and textile companies are understanding and addressing their impact on nature. These new understandings will support businesses of all sizes in formulating where they should be heading and what best practice for biodiversity looks like today.

Biodiversity is fast becoming a focus area for fashion and textile companies. 

The benchmark, developed in partnership with The Biodiversity Consultancy and Conservation International and supported by Sappi, is the newest tool within the Textile Exchange Corporate Fiber and Materials Benchmark Program. It enables companies to understand their impacts and dependencies on nature in their materials sourcing strategies, chart a pathway to deliver positive biodiversity outcomes, and benchmark their progress.

Outcomes and learnings from the Biodiversity Benchmark can then be channeled back into the community to support transformative change for the industry. By approaching biodiversity through the lens of collaboration, we are facilitating a coordinated response to a complex, nuanced problem. Our vision is a future in which companies’ individual material sourcing efforts and investments can evolve into collective, landscape-level action.

"The need to center biodiversity in the sustainability conversation has never been more clear for our company and our industry," said Jeffrey Hogue, chief sustainability officer at Levi Strauss & Co. "We need to get to a place where the protection of species, forests and ecosystems is designed into garments and the manufacturing process from the outset, and this report from Textile Exchange is an important step in that process."

We need nature

The release of the report comes alongside an important shift in the dynamic between business and nature.

It is estimated that 1 million of the planet’s 8 million species are threatened with extinction, and the rate of this loss is accelerating, according to a recent report by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). Over a quarter of the species that have been assessed for the IUCN Red List are threatened with extinction.

In February, the Dasgupta Review, a U.K.-commissioned independent study on the economics of biodiversity, was released. Its core message was clear: The natural world underpins our economies. There will be no business as usual without a new financial system that is geared in favor of, rather than against, nature.

Also, this year, a landmark joint report by IPBES and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change highlighted the integral role of biodiversity in mitigating climate change. And of course, the delayed United Nations conventions for both climate (COP26) and biodiversity (COP15) are happening after the pause COVID-19 placed on people’s ability to respond to these longer-term agendas when responding to a global pandemic was, and arguably still is, front and center. COVID-19 and the emergence of zoonotic diseases must also be seen through the lens of climate change and biodiversity loss.

Industry’s critical role

For fashion and textile companies, there is an increasingly urgent need to act. The industry relies heavily on land-based raw materials and it needs healthy, functioning ecosystems to produce them. There is also a high dependency on fossil-fuel-based, non-renewable materials. Regardless of the material type, there is a need to ensure protection of natural resources and ecosystems, while also reducing waste and pollution that affect biodiversity. Sourcing decisions made today will have a direct impact on the resources needed by the industry tomorrow.

Giving back to nature means playing an active role in protecting, preserving, restoring and regenerating it. The good news is that we are already seeing some frameworks emerge that can help the industry get there.

Launched this year, the Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosures (TNFD) allows companies to report and act on nature-related risks. In turn, it aims to shift global financial flows towards better outcomes for nature. And, with science-based targets for nature in development, companies will soon have a methodology to set their biodiversity goals in line with the latest science. This is already being done for emissions reduction. As climate and nature are inextricably linked, solutions must go hand in hand.

But there is a limit to what can be achieved by individual producers, suppliers and brands. A free exchange of knowledge and information will be essential to help one another — and the sector as a whole — move forward. The Biodiversity Benchmark and Insights Report can serve as a beacon and a guide to the steps needed to take meaningful action and create the change our planet needs.

Where we are so far

Among the headline results from the benchmark:

  • Biodiversity is fast becoming a focus area for fashion and textile companies. 51 percent recognize biodiversity risk as a priority and 59 percent have made public commitments to address it. And while biodiversity has only recently entered the sustainability conversation for fashion and textile companies, 8 percent already have an explicit biodiversity strategy in place. 
  • Sustainability standards are the most widely used measure by companies seeking to address their biodiversity impact.  An impressive 80 percent of companies are increasing their uptake of certified materials as a way of managing their impact on biodiversity. Certified organic cotton and other cotton standards are the most popular. 
  • Over a third of companies are starting to take action to remediate biodiversity loss. Beyond standards, 38 percent of companies are beginning to implement restorative/regenerative measures in support of biodiversity, opening up opportunities for collaboration across the value chain and within broader landscapes.
  • A growing number of companies are investing in biodiversity either financially or in kind. 38 percent of companies are making some kind of investment to improve outcomes for biodiversity, focused on projects within their own supply chain or beyond. 
  • Greater transparency is still needed to track biodiversity outcomes. Only 14 percent of companies know the countries where their key raw materials are grown or extracted. Beyond country of origin, companies should also understand the broader landscape of where they are sourcing their materials, and 15 percent have already started mapping this against priority areas for biodiversity. 

In it together

Understanding where the industry is at, and what the barriers and enablers are to the uptake of best practices, is an important first step. Only by knowing where we are will we be able to create the change needed to halt biodiversity loss and ensure the protection of nature for future generations and the health of our planet Earth.

Textile Exchange congratulates all baseline participants and invites others to join us in using the Biodiversity Benchmark to inform, measure and track improvements along a company’s individual biodiversity journey and as part of a collaborative effort to accelerate and scale action.

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