Episode 73: What is Biodiversity? and what does it have to do with your clothes?
Biodiversity and its importance
The current state of biodiversity loss
The link between fashion and biodiversity loss
How chemicals affect biodiversity
How fashion can positively influence biodiversity
Examples of fashion brands that support biodiversity conservation
Legislative efforts to protect biodiversity in the fashion industry
Hello and welcome to episode 73 of the Fashion Unearthed Podcast. If you signed up for my fortnightly newsletter, you would've read all about my recent interest in permaculture and my initial learnings about soil types and balancing nutrients. So today's episode is very linked to that too. And if you aren't on the list and want to be, head to belindahumphrey.com to sign up for that. But today I wanted to talk about biodiversity and how fashion is connected to the loss of biodiversity and the role it can play in protecting it. I think it's easy to think that fashion just deals with a particular segment or section of the marketplace, but its impacts of far-reaching.
Biodiversity refers to the variety of life on earth, including the different species of animals, plants, and microorganisms, as well as the genetic diversity within these species as well, and the ecosystems that they form. It’s not just a mix of species, but the variety within each species as well. Each species serves a different purpose, contributing to and benefiting the ecosystem in its own unique way. And each ecosystem provides benefits to our planet, such as water purification, nutrient recycling, the maintenance of healthy soils, reducing pollution, absorbing carbon, the regulation of floods and diseases and much more.
It's something that encompasses such a massive part of life on Earth, which is why the loss of biodiversity is worrying. It's linked to climate change and the health of ecosystems on which we and all the other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever. It's been recognized as such a problem that the United Nations has set up a special task force to monitor biodiversity loss, the intergovernmental science-policy platform on biodiversity and ecosystem services. In 2019, it released a report drawing on 15,000 studies from around the world, and it found that since 1970, the number of birds, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians has dropped by more than half.
They say that a quarter of all species are at risk of extinction, and another report revealed that the pH level of the ocean is changing, resulting in marine animals disappearing at twice the rate land animals are. You can start to see that yes, this has far-reaching implications for fashion, but more importantly life itself.
But what exactly is the link to fashion? Well, all industries that manufacture have an impact on biodiversity. However, we know that most of our clothes are grown and even the ones that aren't are extracted from deep down below the earth and need space for mining and those sorts of things in drilling. Therefore, the production of clothing and textiles plays a really large role in habitat destruction and loss of biodiversity as well as pollution and waste. And this can go on to affect the oceans as well with pollution, chemicals and waste such as microplastics as example, the production of certain fabrics may involve the use of pesticides, which can harm insects and other wildlife in the area, or release toxic chemicals into the environment.
And I want to briefly expand on the effect of chemicals here. It's something I want to cover in another episode, but it needs special mentioning here because of its indirect effect on biodiversity loss. A recent report talked about how chemicals are one of the main drivers of biodiversity loss in the world, and even more important than climate change. It goes on to say that 75% of the chemicals being produced in Europe are hazardous to people and the planet. And ecologists now warned that failing to account for the negative impacts of chemical pollution will significantly undermine measures to protect biodiversity and reverse the current loss. If you're looking at this from purely a business point of view and a risk point of view, the health of the fashion business is inextricably linked to a well-functioning healthy ecosystem. But more than that, I don't know who a business is going to sell to if everyone's extinct.
How can fashion positively influence biodiversity? Well, many businesses can start by conserving the biodiversity that we have by using sustainable and ethical production practices. For example, you could start by just making sure that all of your paper source and the wood source is FSC or Forest Stewardship Council certified, meaning that the trees aren't coming from old-growth forests. And some of the bigger brands have gone further to set up funding biodiversity funds or initiatives that support conservation efforts. And I wanted to highlight some of them as well today.
The first one is Gucci. So in 2018, they established the Gucci Equilibrium platform, which includes Biodiversity Manifesto and a biodiversity and ecosystem services expert panel to guide the company's sustainability strategy. And they also support the Wildlife Conservation Society's programs to protect endangered species in their habitats.
The second one is Kering, which is the parent company for brands like Gucci, St. Lauren and Balenciaga, they have a biodiversity strategy. And in January 2021, they launched a program called The Kering for Nature Fund with the aim to protect biodiversity and support local communities in regions where the company's supply chains operate.
The third example comes from the British Heritage Brand, Barbour. They have recently announced the launch of a new biodiversity project, designed to tackle the growing pressures in the UK's agriculture. So made in partnership with the Prince's Countryside Fund, PECF, the initiative will see Barbara Fund a pilot project in the northeast of England involving a workshop for livestock farmers to help them understand biodiversity and drive long-term sustainability within their farms.
And finally, a local example from Country Broad. They have partnered with Landcare for a couple of years now, I think, with their own biodiversity project, and they support farmers, I think mostly cotton farmers to re-vegetate large areas of land, to create corridors, to connect wildlife habitats, and also improve river systems.
Interestingly, there is a movement in legislation as well. There's a proposed The EU Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive that includes a whole section on biodiversity and ecosystems that large EU companies would need to report on if that gets passed. There are also other new legislations such as a biodiversity net gain in the UK, in which when a developer applies for planning permission to build on a site, they must demonstrate how they improve the biodiversity on that site. And it says that it'll be mandatory for all new development projects from 2023 onwards. The other one I wanted to talk about was the EU deforestation-free products regulation. And this one is a proposed regulation that would cover everything linked to deforestation. And the final one that I have read about was the Germany Supply Chain Due Diligence Act, which requires companies with more than 3000 employees in Germany to implement due diligence measures to identify and prevent human rights abuses and environmental harm.
And this includes deforestation in their global supply chains. So you can see these are all starting to put additional pressure on companies across the board to really think about and consider biodiversity within their sustainability strategies. You can really see just how important this issue is. And obviously, the legislation that's being brought in in Europe really signals that they're taking this seriously as well. But if you aren't a big company, what we do know is that we are using more than is available on the planet. And overproduction and overconsumption are exacerbated by diversity loss. So as a business start there, stop making unwanted clothes and look at how you can diversify your business model that doesn't rely on newness all the time. And secondly, if you aren't already looking at chemicals in your supply chain, that should be next on your list. And as a consumer, it really can be as simple as buying less and buying better.
And this doesn't always mean spending more, but spending some time to really understand your style and the lifestyle and the clothes that actually work within that lifestyle. So that brings us to the end of today's episode.
I hope you found today's episode interesting and understand more about biodiversity and its link to fashion. And if you are looking to work with me on coaching or design projects, you can get in touch via firstname.lastname@example.org or DM or message me on Instagram at @belindahumphrey_. And like always, you'll find the show notes and all the links on the website, belindahumphrey.com in the podcast section. Thanks so much for listening. See you next time. Thanks for listening to the Fashion Unearthed Podcast. If you want to get in touch, head over to belindahumphrey.com, or you can find me on Instagram at @belindahumphrey_.
Disclaimer: Whilst every effort is made to ensure that information is accurate at the time of recording, much like the fashion industry itself, this information may change.