The global fashion industry is one of the largest and most influential industries on the planet. It generates over USD 1.7 trillion in revenues annually, and employs 60-75 million people in value chains that are spread across the globe. The industry has served as ‘a stepping stone to development’ in many countries, and continues to do so in many developing nations.
Like many other industries, the fashion sector can also result in heavy environmental damage, with impacts on nature occurring throughout a complex supply chain. For example, the fashion industry draws heavily on land and natural resources for raw materials, sourcing from animal agriculture, mining, forestry and hunting production systems. Processing and manufacturing also have considerable water and carbon footprints, and generate chemical and micro-plastic pollutants. Finally, vast amounts of waste are generated during the production process, and through overproduction and disposal of items. Together, these damaging outputs can have myriad direct a indirect negative impacts on species and habitats.
These diagrams present some of the typical impacts of a fashion supply chain on biodiversity, across a range of raw materials, production systems, damaging outputs and levels in the supply chain.
Negative impacts on biodiversity across different production systems (Adapted from Bull et al. (2019) Internal report on the Conservation Hierarchy for Kering, S.A.):
Relative damage to biodiversity caused at different levels in the fashion and textiles supply chain (Adapted from the Kering Group Environmental Profit & Loss (EP&L) account and Bull et al. (2019) Internal report on the Conservation Hierarchy for Kering, S.A.):
As indicated in this example, raw material extraction is the highest risk level on the supply chain for biodiversity impacts, particularly where livestock and mining production systems are involved for leather, animal fibre and metal production. That is because these systems drive land use change, which is the greatest direct threat to biodiversity globally, due to destruction and degradation of available habitat and direct mortality during land conversion. Processing, manufacturing and retail and administration also pose risks to biodiversity, primarily indirectly through green house gas emissions causing climate change.
The table below, adapted from Bull et al. (2019) Internal report on the Conservation Hierarchy for Kering, S.A., outlines how the Mitigation and Conservation Hierarchy can be used to identify actions to mitigate the negative impacts of fashion and textile companies, and restore biodiversity throughout production systems, supply chains and beyond.
For a practical example of how companies in the fashion industry are currently applying the Mitigation and Conservation Hierarchy, see our case study on mitigating diffuse impacts of fashion and textiles supply chains, based on work by Kering Group and the global Fashion Pact.