Textile Exchange Considers Biodiversity Loss With New Benchmark

Textile Exchange is cracking down on biodiversity loss with a new benchmark for the fashion industry.

At the beginning of 2020, the World Economic Forum’s Global Risk Report named biodiversity loss as one of the top five risks facing society. This echoes a landmark report published last year by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystems Services that showed humans as a direct link to the 1 million plant and animal species facing extinction, many within decades.

“As an organic cotton farmer, biodiversity is at the heart of everything for me,” said Textile Exchange’s managing director La Rhea Pepper. “It provides benefits that address climate change, such as carbon sequestration, regulation of local climate air quality, and moderates extreme natural events. Additionally, biodiversity plays a key role in other benefits such as pollination, erosion prevention, waste-water treatment, biological control of pests and disease and preventing species extinction. Our sector can do so much that is nature-positive, and I look forward to seeing the first benchmark results.”

The biodiversity tool launched Wednesday fits into Textile Exchange’s broader five-year Corporate Fiber and Materials Benchmark (CFMB) program while paving the way for its new 2030 Climate+ Vision, marking a goal of 45 percent CO2 emissions reduction strategy from textile fiber and material production by 2030.

The benchmark will go through an initial test phase gathering data to establish a baseline of best practices, so the organizations are calling for participants via the Textile Exchange Biodiversity Benchmark web site. Participating businesses take an initial survey that is open from Dec. 1 to Jan. 31. There is no cost to join, and companies that are already members of the CFMB program can access the survey via their existing company portal.

“The decisions we make now — as companies, individuals and as a society — will determine how we survive and if we thrive,” said Conservation International’s senior adviser on resilient supply chains, Dr. Helen Crowley. “We need to have the very best information and guidance to take the right decisions and rapid actions. Textile Exchange with this new biodiversity benchmark continues to catalyze and guide the sector toward the outcomes we all need.”

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Textile Exchange partnered with U.K.-based eco-consultancy The Biodiversity Consultancy and environmental nonprofit Conservation International, and engaged more than 30 biodiversity experts, NGOs and representatives from across the fashion and textile industry in the benchmark’s development. Funding was provided by bio-based materials provider Sappi.

Once fully operational, the tool should help business leaders understand their impacts and dependencies on nature, while benchmarking progress.

In an earlier interview, Pepper spoke about the importance of standards in ramping up sustainability progress. Over the course of a year, Textile Exchange doubled its membership from 210 to 425 members and gained further visibility for its standards (like the Organic Content Standard and fastest-growing Global Recycled Standard) partnering with Amazon for its sustainable shopping program.

The biodiversity benchmark is modeled similarly to the preferred fiber benchmark, which is already seeing strides in preferred fiber uptake.

Last year, Textile Exchange’s publicly available CFMB counted 173 participating companies, including Gucci and H&M Group, among others. This year, the CFMB has grown to include manufacturers and textile companies — 20 of which signed on shortly after. Now, nearly 40 percent of reporting participants’ main material use comes from preferred fiber sources, like renewable cotton and recycled synthetics.

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