The sourcing and manufacturing of materials are two of the most environmentally impactful aspects of the fashion industry. In an effort to shift the sector to a more sustainable model, key industry players have revved up efforts to move sustainable materials to the mainstream.
Two years after announcing a sustainable wood sourcing policy in partnership with environmental NGO Canopy, viscose producer Birla Cellulose has released the results of its first-ever independent fiber sourcing audit by Canopy and the Rainforest Alliance. While an important step forward for the company, the news signals a significant industry win: Approximately 25 percent of the global supply chain for viscose has now been audited and found to be low-risk in terms of containing fibers sourced from endangered or ancient forests, providing CanopyStyle partner brands with consiberably more information on where their viscose and rayon fabrics come from.
Austria’s Lenzing was the first viscose producer to undergo CanopyStyle Audit, Canopy and the Rainforest Alliance’s new comprehensive and independently verified auditing system for global viscose and rayon producers to assess their risk of sourcing from endangered forests.
The audit uses a risk-based approach and requires verifiable evidence that wood and pulp used for the production of fibers fulfill a robust verification framework and audit process that was developed by Canopy and the Rainforest Alliance. Lenzing’s supply chains were found to be at low risk for sourcing for ancient and endangered forests. The results from Birla Cellulose of the Aditya Birla Group were also positive, with Birla’s fibers confirmed to be at low-risk of containing fibers from conflict sources. Together, the two companies represent 25 percent of the world’s rayon-viscose production.
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“These audits are a key milestone on the CanopyStyle path to ending the use of endangered forests in fabric and a critical tool for Canopy and our 100 brand partners in assessing risk and tracking innovation within the rayon-viscose supply chain,” said Nicole Rycroft, Executive Director of Canopy.
In recent years, the fashion industry has increasingly relied on forests to create alternative fabrics such as viscose, modal, lyocell and other trademarked textiles. Healthy forest ecosystems are essential for mitigating climate change, as well as maintaining species diversity and freshwater systems. Progressing conservation solutions that benefit local communities, species, the world’s climate and intact forests are drivers behind the work of Canopy and the Rainforest Alliance with Aditya Birla. The CanopyStyle Audit is a requirement for the 100 brands and retailers — including Zara, H&M, Stella McCartney and VF Corp — who make up CanopyStyle and a key performance indicator of Canopy’s overall assessment of viscose producers’ progress on their CanopyStyle commitments.
Audit findings will contribute to CanopyStyle’s Hot Button Issue Report, which assesses viscose producers’ overall performance on forest conservation, advancements on developing fabrics made from recycled fabrics and alternative fibers, and sourcing transparency.
To further improve the sustainability of its operations, Birla Cellulose has said that it will continue to advance research and development on new technologies of recycled and alternative fibers, as well as ensure that its company-owned mills and wood suppliers continue to maintain their own independent third party certification systems. The company has also said that it intends to build on its existing chain of custody systems and certified material sources.
“We welcome the CanopyStyle Audit assessment and look forward to further strengthening our performance. We will continue to invest in new technology to support our long-term focus of reducing our environmental footprint and continuing transparency to our customers,” said Dilip Gaur, Business Director of Aditya Birla Group, Pulp and Fiber.
Meanwhile, the Burberry Foundation has awarded £3 million to the Royal College of Art in London to drive sustainable textile research. The grant will see the establishment of the Burberry Material Futures Research Group and expand the Burberry Design Scholarship Fund, a move that aligns with Burberry’s new five-year responsibility agenda.
The Group will be the first explicit ‘STEAM’ research center at a traditional art and design university, applying radical thinking to invent more sustainable materials, transform consumer experience and advance manufacturing for the benefit of industry and the wider community. It will operate as a virtual hub and move to a physical space following the completion of RCA’s new building in Battersea in 2020.
According to Burberry’s CEO and Chief Creative Christopher Bailey, the Group will cover a broad scope of work, including the development of sustainable materials and new manufacturing methods, as well as support British-trained design talent. The Group looks to take a long-term approach to promoting the STEAM agenda, tackling educational inequality, reducing waste and supporting social and economic development. It will be led by the Burberry Chair of Material Futures, who will also be the academic lead of the Material Science Research Center and the first industry-named Chair post at the College.
The £3 million grant also includes £750,000 to expand the existing Burberry Design Scholarship at the RCA.
“The establishment of the Burberry Material Futures Research Group is an exciting step in incorporating the future of materials science into our research and teaching,” said Dr. Paul Thompson, Rector of the Royal College of Art. “From its founding days, Burberry has pioneered high-performance materials, becoming one of Britain’s most successful and dynamic global companies. Over the last six years, the Burberry Design Scholarships have been invaluable in supporting students and the expansion of these scholarships will ensure the Royal College of Art can continue to generate outstanding creative talent in the UK.”
The initiative is in line with Burberry’s new responsibility agenda, which will focus on three ambitious goals over the next five years: to support one million people in the communities that sustain Burberry’s business and the wider luxury industry; to ensure 100 percent of Burberry’s products have at least one element that drives positive change; and to create new approaches on how to revalue waste from luxury good production in order to become carbon neutral in its own operations.
“This partnership also reflects Burberry’s heritage,” added Bailey. “The company’s founder, Thomas Burberry, was himself a material innovator. He invented the breathable, water-resistant and hard-wearing gabardine fabric in 1879 that is still the cornerstone of our brand today.”