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New Deal Wants to Make Fashion Better for Biodiversity

A leading climate-focused fashion agreement backed by Adidas, Chanel, H&M, Nike, Prada, and Hermès announced this week a new science-based initiative to mitigate the industry’s impacts on biodiversity loss by minimizing land-use change, pollution and natural resources extraction.

The Fashion Pact, a non-legally binding series of sustainability commitments launched by Kering boss François-Henri Pinault in 2019, has linked arms with environmental nonprofit Conservation International to establish “Transforming the Fashion Sector to Drive Positive Outcomes for Biodiversity, Climate and Oceans,” a project funded by a $2 million grant from the Global Environment Facility, the financing arm of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

“Conservation International is proud to partner with The Fashion Pact and its member companies to develop biodiversity strategies that conserve and restore forests and improve management of agricultural lands,” Bambi Semroc, acting senior vice president for the Center for Sustainable Lands and Waters at Conservation International, said in a statement. “The support from the Global Environment Facility will enable us to develop regenerative approaches to agriculture supply chains, lessen the impacts of gold mining on nature and reduce carbon emissions while improving the lives of producers.”

The effort, which will develop and share best practices designed to “clean [up] supply chains, improve agricultural practices, decrease deforestation and support livelihoods,” will provide a roadmap for the Fashion Pact’s 60-plus signatories to help them create “positive environmental change,” particularly across the cashmere, leather and gold supply chains. Conservation International, a Fashion Pact technical partner, will also help signatories establish “concrete” conservation targets that encourage practical action, including the development of a biodiversity strategy that encourages sustainable forest management with zero deforestation.

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“This pioneering program is absolutely aligned with The Fashion Pact’s conviction that we as the fashion industry need to work together in order to drive solutions, innovation and impact at scale,” said Eva von Alvensleben, executive director and secretary-general of The Fashion Pact Association. “We are honored and humbled to join Conservation International and the GEF in leading this foundational work needed to explore sector impacts, [the] relevance of biodiversity to brands and their business and dive deeper into setting priorities and targets, taking action. Ultimately, this program has the potential to drive understanding and industry transformation towards nature-positivity through a science-based approach.”

Conservation International recently partnered with Kering to roll out the luxury conglomerate’s Regenerative Fund for Nature, a grant-administering vehicle that aims to transition 1 million hectares of current crop and rangeland to regenerative farming practices over the next five years.

The fund will initially zoom in on leather, cotton, wool and cashmere—four raw materials that are not only central to Kering brands such as Alexander McQueen, Balenciaga and Saint Laurent, but also have the highest environmental impact, according to Kering. Projects will be monitored throughout to ensure they deliver measurable outcomes for nature, climate and livelihoods, it said.

The Fashion Pact has launched a new science-based initiative to mitigate the industry’s sizable role in biodiversity loss.

“Scaling the quantity and quality of natural, regenerative raw materials for the luxury and fashion industry is one of the key goals of the Regenerative Fund for Nature,” Marie-Claire Daveu, chief sustainability officer and head of international institutional affairs at Kering, said at the time. “Essentially, we are providing funds to groups that can directly trigger change at the farm-level, ultimately transitioning 1 million hectares to practices that work in harmony with nature. As an industry, luxury and fashion can support this pivotal lever of change and help transform agriculture to meet climate goals and stem biodiversity loss.”

The subject of biodiversity—and by extension regenerative agriculture, which incorporates practices meant to enhance the mix of microorganisms, plants and animals—is emerging with increasing frequency in discussions about promoting sustainability in the fashion supply chain. Last August, McKinsey & Co. said that brands and retailers must also tackle biodiversity, which is declining faster than at any other point in history, because apparel supply chains are “directly linked to soil degradation, conversion of natural ecosystems and waterway pollution.” The pandemic has only further underscored the need. Biodiversity loss, together with the wildlife trade, scientists says, is intensifying the risk and incidence of zoonotic diseases that jump from animals to humans.

“Covid-19, instead of slowing the trend, has accelerated it—perhaps because people now understand more deeply that human and animal ecosystems are interdependent,” it said. “It’s time for the apparel industry, which to date has contributed heavily to biodiversity loss, to now make bold moves in the opposite direction.”