Luxury titans Kering and LVMH and fast-fashion giant H&M Group are among the few companies trying to develop a gold-standard framework for how businesses can protect nature.
New guidance from the Nature-Based Science-Based Targeting Network (SBTN), which aims to create standards for companies to assess their biodiversity risks and impacts, is leading the test, and then setting out plans to address the problem.
The effort aims to replicate the success of the Science-Based Targets initiative, where a separate organization has become the primary arbiter of corporate climate commitments.
It reflects a growing awareness among businesses, policymakers and investors that the climate crisis cannot be solved without preventing and reversing natural loss, and that the ongoing biodiversity crisis carries its own financial risks.
What are science-based targets?
Conservation is harder to define and measure than greenhouse gas emissions, but SBTN is looking to develop a framework to change that.
This week, it launched guidelines for setting goals around land and water impacts. Kering, LVMH and H&M are among 17 companies leading the program with the aim of having approved targets this year. Other companies will be able to achieve guaranteed targets starting in 2024.
They should include goals to reduce pollution in water-scarce areas and watercourses, and to prevent the conversion of grasslands, wetlands or forests for economic activity, to reduce the amount of land used for agriculture, and to restore degraded ecosystems.
The idea is that companies It is to help move toward the broader goal agreed by world leaders at the United Nations summit late last year to protect 30 percent of land and sea by 2030.
SBTN plans to release additional guidance to help companies set goals to protect oceans and prevent biodiversity loss.
What does this mean for fashion?
The industry has an important role to play in protecting and restoring nature. Failure to do so has significant risks to supply chains and access to natural resources.
More than 300 million trees are cut down each year to make materials like viscose, according to forest conservation campaign group Canopy. Leather supply chains are linked to deforestation in the Amazon, while crops like cotton require unsustainable pesticides and water.
Big brands have weighed in after pledging to tackle the industry’s impact on nature. By the end of the decade, they had committed tens of millions of dollars to restore land, forests and water and launched programs to support agricultural practices in their supply chain.
The CEO-led Fashion Pact has been working on the issue since 2020, developing strategies for its members to demonstrate their biodiversity impact and reduce their impact on nature. The fact that a number of fashion businesses have been selected to participate in the SBTN pilot for Natural Targets demonstrates the work they’ve already done to understand their footprint.
But it’s a complex challenge. Healthy soil and water levels for a cotton farm in India seem to be different than in China or the US. Due to complex and often opaque supply chains, most fashion brands are unable to say where the fabrics they use are spun and dyed, let alone where the materials come from.
So far, 40 percent of Fashion Accord members have set biodiversity goals and 21 percent have specific biodiversity strategies, although this is a significant increase from a few years ago. Frameworks like SBTN help accelerate that pace.
Does it make a difference?
Setting and setting targets to reduce fashion’s impact on nature are important first steps. It enables companies to strategize, focus on action, and measure and report progress in a standardized manner.
But targets must be translated into action – and quickly – to achieve the UN’s 2030 goals. Voluntary corporate commitments do not have a good track record on this front.
For example, hundreds of fashion companies have now set or committed to science-based climate goals, yet the industry’s emissions are on the rise. Poor quality, unverified data is a challenge to all efforts to measure and monitor environmental impacts.
Science-based environmental targets are a helpful tool for improving transparency and accountability, but their impact remains to be seen.
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