Fashions Change, Forests Stay to Provide Sustainable & Renewable Textile Materials

This article was published on PEFC bulletin

Sustainable Forest Management is helping the fashion industry reduce its carbon footprint and contribute a regenerative and renewable raw material in the form of forest fibres. What started in Europe is taking hold in Southeast Asia.

PEFC International Board member Eduardo Rojas Briales, speaking at an Innovation Forum on Sustainable Apparel and Textiles last month (April 2021), posed the questions: “Regenerative vs sustainable? How are standards for sustainable apparel and fashion evolving?”

He went on to highlight the vital regenerative functions of forests, where wood-based fibres are now being adopted as renewable raw materials, which can in turn support the garment industry in a sustainable fashion.

It’s true that for some time leading brands and fashion consortiums have been increasingly expressing concern about the environmental and social impacts associated with the textile industry. Almost 65% of global fabric consumption consists of synthetic fibres derived from fossil fuels, whilst the majority of the remainder is made up of cotton, a water and pesticide-intensive crop.

Fashionable Switch to Fibre

For PEFC – the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification – the fashionable switch to forest fibre started in 2014. That’s when the Italian Permanent Mission to the United Nations in Geneva, the Government of Switzerland and other partners joined forces with the UNECE/FAO Forestry and Timber Section to celebrate a memorable International Day of Forests with a focus on innovative forest fibres.

Soon after, PEFC Italy initiated a project exploring the potential of forests in fashion with teachers and students at the Italian Institute of Design in Perugia. They started to focus on bringing the sustainable ethos of PEFC into the fashion world and ended up creating a collection of clothing and accessories made entirely from wood and wood-based products from PEFC-certified forests.

Fast forward, fashionably of course, to February 2020 when the President of Indonesia, Joko Widodo, inaugurated the country’s largest integrated viscose rayon production facility, injecting a boost for the country’s textile sector and the Government’s industrial 4.0 development strategy.

The Asia Pacific Rayon (APR) facility is located in the same production complex as the APRIL Group in Pangkalan Kerinci, Riau province, Sumatra. This co-location allows integrated operations where renewable plantation pulp supply from APRIL feeds directly to APR for viscose rayon production. All of the pulp that is sourced is traceable to certified Sustainably Managed Forests, including fibre plantations.

Fashion for Global Climate Action

In addition to meeting international standards and securing PEFC certification, APR also opened the Jakarta Fashion Hub as a collaborative space to unlock the potential of the domestic fashion, textile and creative industries. This is in addition to the many partnerships and collaborations, like the UNFCCC’s Fashion for Global Climate Action, in which the company is actively involved, as it embeds itself in the sustainable textile and fashion market.

As lives and livelihoods reeled from the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 global pandemic in 2020, APR stepped up to support its communities. In addition to providing relief aid to the community, it also partnered an Indonesian textile manufacturer to produce as many as 100 million reusable face masks.

Across the world, the fashion industry is responding. More than 100 brands have now signed up to the UN Fashion Charter for Climate Action, committing to cut greenhouse gases through their global supply chains by 30% by 2030 and to an inspiring long-term vision of a net zero emissions fashion industry by 2050. APR, for one, committed to this in August 2020 and is the only textile company headquartered in Southeast Asia to sign up to the Fashion Charter.

With PEFC’s strong advocacy, forest fibres are now recognised as low-carbon materials, which appeal to today’s eco-conscious consumers, so it is no wonder that their use is growing exponentially.

Fashion brands and retailers are looking closely at how wood-based materials can support improvements in their own environmental impact. Many have developed and implemented policies on cotton and other common materials, but are still evolving their approach to forest fibres.

The world’s forests already store more carbon than all exploitable fossil fuel deposits, so increasing their ability to mitigate climate change is an obvious option.

So it’s more fashionable than ever to say that sustainably managed forests are playing an essential role in helping the world – including Southeast Asia – avoid the worst impacts of climate change, as well as supporting growth and development opportunities for the growing economies in Southeast Asia.


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