LVMH and Kering lead fashion’s input at UN’s biodiversity conference #620


UN Biodiversity Conference, is seeing heightened involvement from fashion companies. Here’s how they’re showing up.

Kering, LVMH, L’Occitane, Natura and H&M are all in Montreal this week for this year’s UN Biodiversity Conference, COP15. With several attending the event for the first time, it’s a sign that the fashion and beauty industries are waking up to the biodiversity crisis and their own role in accelerating it — a major shift from just a few years ago when biodiversity was absent from fashion’s sustainability agenda.

“It’s the first biodiversity COP where the private sector is really present and pushing for an ambitious Global Biodiversity Framework, often even more ambitious than what the country-level negotiators are heading towards,” says Géraldine Vallejo, Kering’s sustainability programme director, from the event. “We are hoping that the negotiators will agree on the level of ambition that is necessary. We also expect that next year, the fashion sector will have its own dedicated stream!”

Already, fashion has made a splash with a string of announcements during the conference, which runs until Monday. Kering and L’Occitane launched a fund for protecting nature at scale, with €140 million committed out of the €300 million target, meant to “mobilise resources” from luxury fashion and beauty to protect and restore nature, as well as focusing on women’s empowerment.

LVMH is participating in the development of standards for a risk management framework intended to help companies better map their impacts on nature as a member of the Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosures (TNFD), which it joined last month. The conglomerate also said it’s strengthening its collaboration with Unesco and is launching a second programme to restore forest cover and strengthen the development of a regenerative economy in Indigenous communities in the southern Ecuadorian and northern Peruvian Amazon, under its partnership with the Circular Bioeconomy Alliance. (The first project, focused on agroforestry in Chad, was announced at COP27 in November.)

And H&M has come out in support (along with more than 330 other companies) of Business for Nature’s Make It Mandatory campaign, a call on governments to require companies to disclose their impact on nature. The Swedish group has also said it is engaging, with nonprofit World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), in projects “close to its value chain to conserve and restore biodiversity in key landscapes”.

It’s a strong start, say experts and campaigners, who are watching to see if fashion’s increased engagement and intent will translate to action at scale. Just three years ago, the industry was largely overlooked as a key driver of global biodiversity loss. However, leather and viscose production have been destroying large tracts of ancient and endangered forests; cotton farms degrading precious topsoil; and microfibre pollution damaging the world’s most remote aquatic ecosystems, among other impacts, many of them poorly studied or not studied at all.

Awareness has increased rapidly, with many brands now making sweeping promises to be nature-positive — but, actions have so far been limited, relative to the scope of the problem. Pilot projects for regenerative agriculture offer to improve soil health and possibly carbon storage in specific areas, and the use of recycled materials can reduce fashion’s burden on limited supplies of new natural resources. However, until the industry brings those and other initiatives into the mainstream, they will not change the industry’s overall relationship with nature. It’s also a uniquely challenging issue for fashion to address, both because biodiversity itself is more complicated to measure — the term “nature positive” is one that even ecologists have not defined clearly — and because fashion’s impacts on nature occur in some of the most distant parts of the supply chain.

Still, where fashion is starting to act, advocates see potential for others to follow.

As governments continue to grapple with the actions needed to halt biodiversity loss, we are excited to see influential brands like Kering and L’Occitane step into the leadership space,” says Tamara Stark, campaign director for the forest conservation nonprofit Canopy. “Conservation is an important complement to reducing demand from the marketplace, so that pressure on vital systems like forests decreases. We need all sectors of society to collaborate and make significant contributions to these efforts so that we can prevent biodiversity loss and help stop runaway climate change.”

It’s the details that matter

What else is needed, though, from both fashion and other industries as well as governments, is a subject of much debate. The idea is being floated for biodiversity credits, similar to carbon credits, but there is little agreement on whether that’s an appropriate strategy, let alone what it should look like if it were to proceed. The science is clear that Indigenous communities are key to preserving biodiversity around the world, but it’s unclear if or how heavily that will play into the negotiations at COP15. Calls have also grown for significant financing, for countries in the Global South in particular, but there’s little indication those calls will be heeded.

Some of the more specific pain points being debated at COP15, according to LVMH, are discussions about access and benefit-sharing from digital sequencing of genetic resources, pollution and potential restrictions on fertiliser use, financial help for low-income countries from wealthy ones and the corporate response to the notion of transparency requirements and need to establish standardised metrics and guidelines.

With so many variables still undefined among policymakers and scientists globally, it’s even less clear what the roadmap looks like for where fashion — which has only recently begun to understand its profound and extensive impacts on nature — needs to go from here. That’s exactly why the conference is so urgent, say advocates, and why fashion’s presence there is exciting.

The growing calls for mandatory disclosure of nature impacts are promising for Liesl Truscott, director of industry accountability and insights at Textile Exchange, who says she’s seeing conversations among companies on the side of the official agenda focused on the practicalities of what that requirement would mean and how it could be transformative for industry’s impact on nature. “There’s discussion about how, by setting a target like this around reporting and disclosure, it will get into companies’ strategies — [for example] their risk awareness — and infiltrate business in a way that gets to the core of the company,” she says. “There’s a very strong message that’s not the end game, that it’s not just about disclosure and getting something into a glossy report, but that transparency can help companies mobilise capacity [and] start to have that accountability baked in.”

At the same time, she’s clear the industry has plenty of work ahead. “It can’t be achieved by one company doing a great thing on one piece of land. It’s about connectivity for endangered species to move — that kind of awareness-raising and next level of understanding that is happening. But, it’s very early days.”

One of the most important targets to watch for at COP15 — which advocates hope will end in a “Paris-style” agreement for nature — is whether all parties adopt the goal to protect at least 30 per cent of the world’s forests and oceans by 2030, says Nicole Rycroft, founder and executive director of Canopy. It shouldn’t be impossible, given the growing momentum around climate change and its heavy overlap with biodiversity. “Protecting the world’s primary forests is the fastest, cheapest and most effective (and proven) way to help stabilise our climate,” she says.

For fashion, she says, man-made cellulosic fibres — such as rayon and viscose, made from wood pulp — are a key place to start. The industry needs to replace half of all the forest fibres it uses today with low-carbon, low-impact alternatives in order to achieve the forest conservation target, she says.

“Getting to that target will require cooperation from all stakeholders,” she says. “Companies can help lead by mapping their supply chains, setting bold objectives, and investing in scaling readily available low-impact alternatives. Governments can help by levelling the playing field and providing the necessary incentives.”

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