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GR Interview with CanopyPlanet CEO: 'India can be a hub for sustainable fashion'

As a passionate environmentalist, Nicole Rycroft has dedicated her life to protecting the world's forests, species, and climate.

By Wahid Bhat
New Update
Nicole Rycroft canopy planet founder

As a passionate environmentalist, Nicole Rycroft has dedicated her life to protecting the world's forests, species, and climate. Her non-profit organization, Canopy, works tirelessly to promote sustainable practices and protect endangered ecosystems.

In an exclusive interview with Groundreport.in environment journalist Wahid Bhat, Nicole Rycroft founder and executive director of CanopyPlanet shares her thoughts on an important issue facing India: 'waste cotton textiles and the annual burning of straw.'

During the interview, Nicole pointed out that India is the world's largest textile recycler and the second-largest manufacturer of straw pulp. Furthermore, she sees this as a massive opportunity to dramatically scale Next Gen markets, reduce pollution, and create social transformation for the Indian economy. With approximately 100 million tonnes of straw burned every year, there is a vast amount of untapped feedstock that could be used to drive sustainable industries and reduce the country's carbon footprint.

During the interview, she enthusiastically answered questions from environment Journalist, Wahid Bhat. Here, is the transcript of the interview.

Q: Can you tell us about Canopy's mission and how you work towards achieving it?

A: Canopy's mission is to protect the world's forests and advance Indigenous communities' rights. We do this by working with companies and governments to create sustainable supply chains that do not harm ancient and endangered forests. Our focus is on the production of paper, packaging, and viscose, which are responsible for the loss of climate-critical forests.

Q: Can you tell us more about the recent $60M milestone grant from TED and how it will help achieve Canopy's mission?

A: The $60M milestone grant from TED will help us scale up our efforts to catalyze 60 million tonnes of low-carbon Next Gen paper, packaging, and viscose onto the market by 2033. This will displace the use of ancient and endangered forests in these supply chains. The funding will enable us to work in key regions, including India, North America, Europe, Brazil, and Southeast Asia, to bring alternative fibers such as agricultural residues and cotton textile waste to mills. We will also increase our work with local decision-makers, Indigenous communities, and NGO partners to translate the relief of pressure on forests into formal conservation.

Q. Can you provide more details about Canopy's efforts to eliminate all sources of climate-critical forests from fashion and packaging supply chains by 2030? How is Canopy working with companies to achieve this goal?

A: Absolutely. Our goal at Canopy is to eliminate all sources of climate-critical forests from fashion and packaging supply chains by 2030. We estimate that 5.1 billion trees are logged every year to make paper, paper packaging, and viscose products. And, much of this comes from the world's ancient and endangered forests. This is driving the loss of climate-critical forests at a time when we need all hands on deck to stabilize our climate. Keeping forests standing is one of the fastest, cheapest, and most effective ways to stabilize our climate. But, we can't keep forests standing if we continue to mow them down to make pizza boxes and rayon shirts.

In terms of how we work with brands, Canopy currently works with over 900 global brands, including H&M, Zara, Gap, Ben and Jerry's, HH Global, Scholastic, and Stella McCartney. About 20 producers have also committed to keeping ancient and endangered forests out of their supply chains, advocating for the conservation of forests, and exploring next-gen alternatives for viscose and paper packaging.

All of the brands we work with sign timed commitments to eliminate ancient and endangered forests from their relevant supply chain. We work with these companies to trace their supply chains, identify their impacts on the world's climate-critical forests, and implement solutions to reduce impact, eliminate any sourcing from the world's endangered forests, and move to lower-carbon, lower-impact alternatives.

Many of our partners have also signed letters of intent to purchase and commitments to purchase next-gen products in the coming years, which is an excellent start. But we need more companies to bring these products to market, more purchasing agreements, and even more brands working with us through our CanopyStyle (viscose-focused) and Pack4Good (packaging-focused) initiatives.

Q. How do you see India's potential to become a hub for sustainable and circular fashion?

A: India has immense potential to become a hub for sustainable and circular fashion. In fact, India is already the world's largest textile recycler and the second-largest manufacturer of straw pulp. With waste cotton textiles and approximately 100 million tonnes of straw burnt in the country every year, there is an untapped feedstock that can help scale Next Gen markets, reduce pollution, and provide a social transformation opportunity for the Indian economy.

Q. What unique opportunities and challenges does India face in this regard?

A: The unique opportunity for India lies in scaling up supply chains that can get significant volumes of straw residue into the production stream to make paper-based products and viscose. This would not only reduce the pressure on forests globally but also help solve an entrenched pollution issue and provide value-added revenues to farmers.

However, one of the challenges that India faces is creating conditions favourable for increasing its share of the global supply of a lower-carbon pulp alternative to high-impact wood pulp currently on the market. We plan to address this challenge by building partnerships with farmer collectives, and business development groups, and collaborating across several regions to facilitate this transition to a more sustainable and circular fashion industry in India.

Our organization is focused on creating partnerships with stakeholders across India to help facilitate the transition to a more sustainable and circular fashion industry. We plan to work with farmer collectives, business development groups, and other stakeholders to increase the supply of straw pulp, waste cotton textiles, and other sustainable materials that can be used in the production of paper-based products and viscose.

We will also be collaborating with government and industry stakeholders to create policies and frameworks that support the growth of sustainable and circular fashion in India.

Q. Can you talk about any specific partnerships or initiatives that Canopy has established in India to promote sustainable and circular fashion?

A: Canopy has already been working with brand partners like Flipkart and House of Anita Dongre, Indian innovators like Craste, and major conventional producers like Aditya Birla to lead the transition to low-carbon, low-waste and circular alternatives.

We are also building new and exciting partnerships with local industry associations working in the pulp, paper, and textile sectors to explore opportunities to build and retrofit Next Generation mills that utilise agricultural waste and recycled textiles.

Meanwhile, we’re meeting with local NGOs on the ground that work with textile collectors to explore how we can get fashion waste out of landfills, create a more organized pathway for collection, and effectively close the waste loop. By working together to bolster the skills and capacity of India’s informal waste workers and connect them with our cadre of brand and producer partners, we hope to create green jobs in India's most marginalised communities while building the low-carbon, forest-friendly supply chains of tomorrow. 

Q. What role do you see India playing in the global movement towards more sustainable and ethical fashion practices?

A: A big one! India’s agricultural capacity and textile waste position the country to take advantage of the growing global appetite for low-carbon alternatives to high-carbon wood-based packaging and human-made cellulosic fibre (MMCF) textiles. India has roughly 7.8 million tonnes of textile waste each year, accounting for about 8.5% of the global total. Most of this originates from Indian consumers, followed by local factory waste, and what remains is imported into India from other countries.

India is uniquely positioned to leverage its existing textile recycling capacity to meet the demand for waste cotton textiles as the Next Gen feedstock for MMCF textiles. Its paper industry already produces agricultural fibre pulp and paper. With the adoption of updated technologies, the industry can expand to feed both domestic needs and be an early global leader in low-carbon Next Gen pulp production.

In short, the history is there (India is the second largest producer of straw pulp currently), the waste fibre is there, the networks are there, and with the right investment, we feel confident that India can establish itself as a leader in scaling circular and Next Gen technologies, and bringing what would otherwise be landfilled or burned to the marketplace.

Q: How can Canopy and other organizations work with Indian government agencies and policymakers to promote sustainability and circularity in the fashion industry?

A: Governments can incentivize companies with beneficial policies such as tax breaks for using low-impact fibre inputs for textiles and paper, or by funding the innovation and scale-up efforts for alternative, circular, Next Gen products.

They can also institute regulatory changes, especially detailed, and time-lined ones that would make it worthwhile for businesses to investigate better alternatives or make it illegal to landfill textiles.

Q: How important is the role of consumer awareness and education in promoting sustainable fashion? What initiatives has Canopy undertaken to raise awareness among consumers?

A: Consumer awareness and education are crucial in promoting sustainable fashion. Consumers have a powerful role in driving change and pushing companies to adopt more sustainable practices. By educating themselves and making more informed purchasing decisions, consumers can help create demand for sustainable products and put pressure on companies to meet those demands.

At Canopy, we are always working to raise awareness around the impact of textiles, paper, and packaging on the world's forests. One of our major initiatives in this area is our CanopyStyle campaign, which focuses on driving change in the viscose supply chain. We work with major fashion brands to help them transition to sustainable and low-impact alternatives to viscose that don't contribute to deforestation. We also engage with consumers through social media and other outreach efforts to help them understand the impact of their purchasing decisions and encourage them to demand more sustainable options.

Q. What are some of the biggest barriers or challenges that companies and governments face in transitioning towards sustainable and circular fashion practices, and how can they be overcome?

A: The two biggest challenges that we see are the well-established and entrenched wood products industry that has a vested interest in maintaining business-as-usual production, and the potential slow pace of change to scale up big infrastructure such as Next Gen pulp mills.

We believe that strong market demand from brands is essential. A clear market signal from brands that they want to buy Next Gen products creates a value proposition for conventional producers to change business as usual. With 500+ brands already part of CanopyStyle, this has already started but we’ll ramp it up further over the coming years. Mobilization of scaling levels of investment is also important.

We’re just starting to mobilize infrastructure levels of investment into the Next Gen viscose and packaging space, and we expect this space will change quite quickly. Additionally, having a strong innovation pipeline which has market access and working with conventional producers is essential. We currently work with 25 - 30 Next Gen innovators and are excited to support those that are commercial-ready in going to scale, whilst supporting earlier-stage tech to do pilot trials and product refinement.

Q. How does Canopy measure the impact of its work and initiatives towards achieving its goal of eliminating all sources of climate-critical forests from fashion and packaging supply chains by 2030?

A: We measure it by the tonnes of Next Gen pulp coming to market (e.g. Renewcell in Sweden is the world's first commercial-scale Next Gen dissolving pulp mill and Nafici Group is now commissioning a wheat straw pulp mill in China). We will be tracking the additional capacity coming online year on year while also monitoring how viscose producers are progressing on eliminating Ancient and Endangered Forests from their supply chain and incorporating Next Gen feedstocks instead. We do this through the Hot Button Report annual audits of viscose producers’ sourcing. We want to ensure that taking the pressure off forests results in the actual protection of more forests. We work with local organizations and our brand and producer partners to advance forest conservation in critically important forest ecosystems.

Nicole Rycroft's vision for a sustainable future is inspiring and thought-provoking. Through her work with Canopy, she is paving the way for a world where economic growth and environmental preservation can coexist. By harnessing India's potential to become a hub for sustainable and circular fashion, she sees a significant opportunity to create positive change for the planet and society

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