Even amid the COVID-19 pandemic, sustainability remains top of mind for consumers, investors, and regulators—in fact, engagement in sustainability has deepened during the crisis. For example, two-thirds of apparel shoppers say that limiting impact on climate change is now more important to them since before COVID-19.
But while much has been written about the fashion industry’s impact on climate change, less well known and well covered is the industry’s heavy footprint on biodiversity. Broadly defined as the variety of all life forms on earth, biodiversity matters. We rely on it for food and energy, and we depend on its irreplaceable role in sustaining air quality, providing fresh water and soil, and regulating climate. And yet biodiversity is declining at a faster rate than ever before in human history. 2 One million species, between 12 percent and 20 percent of estimated total species, marine and terrestrial alike, are under threat of extinction.
The apparel industry is a significant contributor to biodiversity loss. Apparel supply chains are directly linked to soil degradation, conversion of natural ecosystems, and waterway pollution.
This article examines the apparel industry’s largest contributors to biodiversity loss, how companies can strategically mitigate that loss, and what brands can do to boldly lead the industry’s biodiversity efforts.
Apparel’s contribution to biodiversity loss
For several years now, apparel companies have been active in the fight against climate change, launching myriad initiatives to become carbon neutral. Biodiversity is a distinct but related issue. Biodiversity loss and climate change are interdependent and mutually reinforcing—one accelerates the other, and vice versa. For example, protecting forests could help reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. In turn, the rise of global temperatures increases the risk of species extinction.
Because biodiversity is such a complex and multidimensional landscape, and ecosystem degradation is so wide ranging—affecting oceans, freshwater, soil, and forests—multiple metrics and indicators are needed to measure impact and progress. Setting targets and accountability for such a complex range is much more challenging than managing for the single metric of greenhouse emissions.