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How Do the World’s Viscose Producers Stack Up in Terms of Sustainability?

Nearly a third of the global viscose supply chain is now verified as low risk of coming from ancient and endangered forests, according to Canopy, a Canadian forestry not-for-profit whose CanopyStyle initiative helps brands and retailers eliminate high-risk fibers from their rayon, modal and viscose clothing. 

So what about the other two-thirds?

On Monday, Canopy released its 2018 “Hot Button” ranking, a merit-based system of “buttons” that sums up the performance of 31 of the world’s leading viscose producers based on a range of criteria, such as the completion of third-party verification audits (worth two buttons), the adoption of robust forest-sourcing policies (two buttons), investment in R&D for alternative fibers (one button) and transparency about suppliers (one button).

Lenzing scored 23 out of a possible 35 buttons, followed by Birla Cellulose with 22.5 and Enka with 20. All three producers, which together represent 28 percent of the global viscose supply chain, were awarded with “light green shirt” icons—close to but still short of the preferred “dark green shirt” rating that would signal best-in-class performance.

Tangshan Sanyou, a member of the Collaboration for Sustainable Development of Viscose (CV), a self-regulating Chinese initiative that Changing Markets Foundation took to task last month for lacking in ambition and transparency,” improved from a yellow in 2017 to a yellow-and-green shirt, “indicating continuous progress,” Canopy said.  

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Zhejiang Fulida and Xinxiang Bailu Chemical Fiber Co., which are also CV stakeholders, received red-and-yellow shirts associated with a score of five to nine buttons. So did Sateri, which racked up the 10 buttons technically required for a yellow shirt but was demoted due to “confirmed high risk and sources of controversial fiber.”

Aoyang Technology, Shandong Yamei, Jiangsu Xiangsheng Viscose Fiber Co., were dressed down in red shirts, meaning they rated between zero to four buttons and “do not meet minimum requirement for compliance,” Canopy said.

Asia Pacific Rayon was the sole company marked with a white-and-red shirt, Canopy’s visual shorthand for a producer that is at high risk of sourcing from ancient and endangered forests.

On a more positive note, Canopy singled out CV member Yibin Grace, the world’s fifth-largest producer by volume, for proactively engaging with the organization this year, quickly finalizing its policy and embarking on the CanopyStyle audit. It, along with Eastman Chemical Co., received rainbow-striped shirts, marking the companies as “newly engaged and acting.”

More than 160 CanopyStyle partner brands, designers, retailers and “countless others” in the clothing industry rely on this yearly assessment of viscose and rayon producers to make responsible sourcing decisions, engage with suppliers and achieve their sustainability goals, Canopy said.

“With brands and retailers having clear purchasing guidelines to source only from Hot Button green-shirt producers from 2020 onwards, it is no longer an option for producers to ignore their forest impacts,” Nicole Rycroft, founder and executive director of Canopy, said in a statement. “It is a clear sign that sustainable sourcing is imperative and that next-generation solutions for the textile industry are on its way.”

Roughly 70 million to 100 million trees are logged annually to produce pulp for rayon, viscose, modal and other cellulosic fibers, Canopy noted. With demand for dissolving pulp projected to increase by 122 percent in the next 40 years, the cellulosic-fiber industry poses an increasing risk to threatened forest ecosystems.

“Catalyzing rapid and broad adoption of these next-generation technologies and ‘disruptive’ innovation is a priority for Canopy and will feature prominently in our work with fashion brands and textiles producers over the coming years,” Rycroft said.

Part of that work also involves identifying the hotspots of problematic sourcing. In November, Canopy launched ForestMapper, a free online tool to help pulp- and lumber-sourcing businesses identify—and avoid—ancient and endangered forests across the globe, from the boreal forests in the Great White North to the rainforests of Indonesia.