Skip to main content

H&M, Zara Back $3.4B ‘Next Generation’ Vision to Green Viscose

Canopy has a “next generation” vision for viscose.

Following the release of its forest-conservation action plan at the World Economic Forum in Davos in January, the nonprofit is plotting a “bold” path to support the promotion of rayon and viscose products made from low-impact alternative fibers such as textile waste, microbial cellulose and agriculture residues.

Between 70 million and 100 million trees—including those from ancient and endangered forests—are logged annually to produce pulp for rayon, viscose, modal and other cellulosic fibers, according to Canopy. With demand for dissolving pulp projected to increase by 122 percent in the next 40 years, the cellulosic-fiber industry poses a growing threat to vulnerable forest ecosystems.

Technology, however, could help. With viscose mills rallying to support new inputs, next-generation feedstocks could replace at least 90 percent of viscose production volumes coming from ancient and endangered forests by the end of 2025, Canopy said. By 2030, as much as 50 percent of all viscose could be made from next-generation feedstocks.

“Clothing made from next-generation fabrics is not science fiction,” Nicole Rycroft, Canopy’s founder and executive director, said in a statement. “It is already in stores and is an essential part of the fashion industry’s work to address our planet’s climate and biodiversity crises.”

Of the world’s five largest viscose producers, Canopy notes, three already offer initial product lines with 20 percent to 50 percent recycled cotton. With an estimated 26 million metric tons of waste cotton and viscose textiles landfilled every year, a fraction of that could be mined to produce the 6.5 million metric tons of viscose currently generated annually.

Supporters of Canopy’s vision include brands and retailers such as Eileen Fisher, Esprit, H&M, Zara owner Inditex, Lindex, Marks & Spencer, Mara Hoffman, New Look, Next, Reformation and Stella McCartney, as well as Tangshan Sanyou, the world’s fourth-largest viscose producer.

This vision, Canopy added, would require just 17 new next-generation mills and $3.4 billion in investments over the next decade, which is less than 1 percent of annual fashion sales worldwide.

“Industry leaders are sending a clear message that they have no tolerance for viscose containing ancient and endangered forests and are ready for new innovative viscose fibre sources,” Rycroft said. “These brands and producers are showing real leadership [and] we know more will join this path in the coming months.”