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Saving Forests and Climate Boils Down to ‘Bold’ New Plan, Canopy Says

Canopy has a “survival plan” for saving both forests and the climate.

At Davos in Switzerland Tuesday, the forestry nonprofit announced a “bold” but tangible strategy to save 30 percent or more of the world’s forests by 2030. The key step? Replacing half of forest inputs for global pulp supply with alternative fibers such as agricultural waste, which is typically burned or left to rot on fields, or leftover cotton from the textile supply chain, which is often incinerated or landfilled.

It’s an “audacious solution,” Canopy said, but one backed by solid data that makes a business case for investing not only in mills producing these alternatives but also in “well-sited and well-managed” forests.

Fashion’s relationship with forests makes such a move especially vital. Of the 6.5 million metric tons of viscose pulp produced annually, roughly half stems from ancient and endangered forests, from the “carbon-rich peatlands of Indonesia [to the] old-growth boreal forests of Canada,” the organization said.

At the same time, just 25 percent of cotton textile waste and 25 percent of rayon waste could replace all wood fiber currently used to manufacture dissolving pulp, it added.

In its “next-generation action plan,” Canopy says its proposal will require the establishment of 200 agricultural-fiber pulp mills, 107 recycled-paper pulp mills, 17 recycled cotton garment and/or microbial-cellulose-dissolving pulp mills and 7.5 million hectares of new forests planted on lands not prioritized for food production, habitat maintenance and restoration or carbon storage.

To further secure the scale of conservation needed, Canopy recommends the reduction of 16.65 million metric tons of consumption through reuse and material-efficient design initiatives.

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While overhauling supply-chain infrastructure will cost an estimated $69 billion over the next 10 years, such a change is not only necessary, Canopy says, but achievable. It only requires strategic alignment among investors, innovative technology ventures, pulp producers, paper and viscose manufacturers, governments and corporate buyers of wood pulp-derived products.

And, as the organization somewhat wryly notes, the maker of Botox sold for $63 billion in 2018. “More pertinently,” in 2018, private, public and development finance institutions committed $140 billion in investments to infrastructure development in 41 low- and middle-income countries.

“Our brand partners want these next-generation solutions and the technologies are ready,” Nicole Rycroft, executive director of Canopy, said in a statement. “We’re thinking big, because there’s no point to doing anything less. Now is not the time for climate despair, but for transformative action, and, ultimately, hope for our forests, climate and people the world over.”

Madelene Ericsson, environmental sustainability business expert at H&M, a CanopyStyle member that has pledged to eliminate the use of ancient and endangered fibers from its supply chain, said she welcomed Canopy’s approach of breaking the plan into components for producers, investors and corporate purchasers of pulp products.

“Collaboration across supply chains, at scales beyond what has been considered before, is needed in order to address the climate and biodiversity challenges we face,” she said.

Andrew Pidden, global head of sustainable investing at DWS (formerly know as Deutsche Asset Management), likewise lauded Canopy’s proposal.

“DWS believes that protecting global biodiversity and increasing carbon sinks from forests will play an instrumental role in sequestering carbon as a climate change mitigant on a global level,” he said. “Approaches like Canopy’s, targeting supply-chain sustainability across the paper products and textiles industries, represent a critical component of this effort.”