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Do you know that OUR PLANET IS CHANGING at levels leading to a NEW GEOLOGICAL AGE, where environmental conditions can become UNCERTAIN?

Let’s start by understanding some basic concepts…







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Geological changes have constantly taken place along the history of earth, while keeping balanced the ecosystems performance for thousands of years.
However, since the 18th century the Industrial Revolution introduced deep transformations to not only the way society worked and lived, it has also brought environmental alterations without precedents at a planetary level[1].
With persistent attempts to the balance in biochemical flows, warmer climate, and tragical loss of biodiversity and forests, the pressures introduced by humans’ activities are leading the Earth System to a very different state. Likely much less hospitable to the development of human societies, this would concern leaving behind 11.700 years of Holocene -the only natural geological state of the planet that we know for certain can support contemporary human societies- to go into what has been proposed as a new geological epoch, the Anthropocene[2].

Wait… How do we know that?

Aiming to prevent human activities from causing unacceptable environmental change, the Planetary Boundaries framework was proposed to define and measure a safe operating space for humanity based on the intrinsic biophysical processes that regulate the stability of the Earth System[3].
By 2022, three out of the nine Planetary Boundaries -Biosphere integrity, Biogeochemical flows and Novel entities[4]- are beyond the zone of uncertainty. Followed by Land-system change and Climate change being in zone of uncertainty. Under safe operating space are the Freshwater use, Stratospheric ozone depletion, and the Ocean acidification just below the increasing risk level. Atmospheric aerosol loading is the only boundary not yet quantified[2].










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And… Why all this introduction?

This research aims to identify the interdependencies between the Land-system change and the characteristics of the Fashion Industry. Once introduced the model of Planetary Boundaries, will be explained the concept of Land-system change, its control variables, current status and drivers. Then, we will expose the pressures of fashion on this planetary boundary, first from an overview and second by diving deeper into the impacts caused by the main textile fibers used in the sector. Finally, some initiatives aiming to protect the Land-systems will describe to understand their impact on the fashion industry.

Why the Land-System Change Boundary matters?








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Our provision of basic needs such as food, water and shelter directly depend on land. As the increasing global population and development drive the expansion of croplands, pastures, urban areas and infrastructure, so could the detriment of forest, waterways and air quality all around the world.
On one hand, land-use practices are indispensable to afford critical natural resources and ecosystem services; but, on the other, land change is also potentially undermining the capacity of the biosphere to sustain human needs in the long term.
Land-use change concerns complex interrelations being cause as well as consequence of environmental transformations at a global level, not only locally as it was traditionally considered[3]. Research has revealed the role of land-use practices in the global carbon cycle; in regional climates through changes in surface energy and water balance which in turn





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affects land properties and the provision of ecosystem services. Also, in biodiversity declines through the fragmentation of habitats and the degradation of soil; in the hydrologic cycle transformed to supply water for irrigation, industry and domestic consumption; and anthropogenic nutrient inputs to the biosphere from fertilizers and other atmospheric pollutants[5].

How the Land-System Change is measured?













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As a planetary boundary, Rockström et al. (2009) proposed that no more than 15% of the global ice-free land surface should be converted to cropland[3]. In a later effort to focus the land-system change boundary more on the specific biogeophysical processes directly related to climate, an update was introduced by Steffen et al. (2015).
The control variables changed from the amount of cropland to the amount of forested land maintained -expressed as the percent of original forest cover remaining from pre-industrial levels.

With a zone of uncertainty ranging at 75–54%, the current value of the control variable is 62%.

This global value results as a weighted average of the three major forest biome boundaries -tropical, temperate and boreal- which have stronger interrelations between land and climate than other biomes[2].












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Tropical forests, for example, have the more substantial feedbacks to climate through changes in evapotranspiration when they are converted to nonforested systems. Change in the distribution of boreal forest, as well, affect the albedo of the land surface and hence regional energy exchange. Having the strongest regional and global teleconnections, the biome-level boundary for tropical and boreal forest have been set at 85% -zone of uncertainty ranging at 85-60%-; and the boundary for temperate forests has been proposed at 50% of potential forest cover -with zone of uncertainty ranging at 50-30%. The difference is due to changes in temperate forests are estimated to have weaker influences on the climate system at the global level than changes to the other two major forest biomes[2].

And… Why are Land-Systems actually changing?

Primary drivers of forest cover loss for the period 2001 to 2015, Curtis et al. (2018).
Using high-resolution Google Earth imagery over the period 2001 to 2015, Curtis et al. (2018) identified the dominant drivers of forest loss into five categories:
Commodity production, Forestry, Agriculture, Wildfire and Urbanization.
The research indicated that 27% of global forest loss can be attributed to deforestation through permanent land use change for commodity production, mainly beef, soy, palm oil, and wood fiber. Related to the interrelation with the fashion industry, this commodity category involves cotton fields, over 50% of man-made cellulosic fibers sourced from uncertified forests, and pasture land use for animal fibers and leather.




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Also, forestry – defined as large-scale forestry operations occurring within managed forests and tree plantations- represented 26% of total forest disturbance, followed by 24% corresponding to shifting agriculture -understood as small- to medium-scale forest conversion for agriculture with a subsequent forest regrowth.




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Largescale forest loss resulting from the burning of forest vegetation with no visible human conversion or agricultural activity afterward corresponds to 23% as wildfire. An additional 0.6% of forest loss was attributed to the intensification and expansion of urban centers[6].







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Furthermore, land systems change is not evenly distributed around the world and drivers of forest loss varied regionally. According to the Deforestation Fronts Report from the WWF (2021), in the period from 2000 to 2018 about two-thirds of total deforestation took place in tropical and sub-tropical biomes[7] with shifting agriculture and commodity production as main drivers of deforestation. Forestry and wildfire were the dominant disturbance factors in boreal and temperate regions[6].
In 2018, Song et al. also analyzed satellite data and provided the first comprehensive record of global land change dynamics during 1982–2016. Contrary to the prevailing view that forest area has declined globally, the research conclude that global tree cover had in fact increased by 7.1% in the 35 years, counted as a net measure of loss as well as gains from plantations and secondary forests. The concern is, nevertheless, that increases in forest area in the global north cannot compensate for loss of forests in the tropics due to, as explained before, this kind of biome forests have a much larger impact on other earth systems[5].

Then… How is the Fashion Industry related to this change?





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Deforestation is mainly associated to agricultural production, specifically to commodities like cattle, mining, palm oil and soy, primary activities apparently far from the sophisticated fashion industry. However, by taking a look into the raw materials stages of the supply chain of brands, the link with deforestation becomes evidently relative to commodity-driven exploitation -like cotton, wool, and petroleum for synthetics- or forestry -for manmade cellulosic.





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Aiming to understand better the pressures of the fashion industry on global deforestation, first will be introduced a big picture of the global fiber market, to then expose the impacts of each material group sourced by the sector.
Preferred Fiber & Materials: Market Report, Textile Exchange (2021)
Fiber production has almost doubled in the last 45 years from m 8.4 kilograms per person in 1975 to 14 kilograms per person in 2020, and it is expected an increase of 34% to 17 kilograms per person by 2030 under the current industry conditions[8]. In spite of the rising awareness on the impact of these tendencies on people and environment, as well as on the urgent need for a more responsible use of resources and for decoupling growth from nature consumption, transformation towards sustainability is not yet happening at the scale and speed required[9].
Synthetic fibers have dominated the fiber market since the mid-1990s, when they overtook cotton volumes. Polyester alone, as the most representative of the category, has a market share of around 52% of total global fiber production. Plant fibers have around 30%, with only cotton corresponding to 24% while other plant-based fibers -including jute, linen, hemp, and others- have a 6%. An increasingly important fiber category is manmade cellulosic fibers (MMCFs), with a market share of 6%. Animal fibers -including wool, down, and silk- represent 1.57%[8].







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Although commitments to eliminate deforestation from supply chains have been made by companies, nongovernmental organizations and governments, to achieve these pledges require the full traceability of complex supply chains whose sourcing of raw materials entangles multiple aggregators and middlemen. Moreover, in an industry characterized for the sourcing of materials and manufacturing processes in low-cost labor countries, multinational companies can barely determine the source of their supply beyond their direct suppliers. This reduces the effectiveness of deforestation attribution and undermines a company’s ability to take concrete action[6].

So… Let’s understand the impact of the fashion industry on Land-System Change through the four most important textile fibers

Textile Exchange (2021) [8] and Sandin et al. (2019) [23]
The diagram represents the four main categories of textile fibers in the fashion industry and source of their raw materials.


Synthetic materials derived from fossil fuels such as crude oil and fracked gas now constitute roughly two-thirds of all fibers used in textiles and garments[9]. As the most significant fabric in terms of production, polyester accounts for 52% with only 15% sourced from recycled polyester, 0.03% biobased, and 85% manufactured with virgin oil-based polymers[8] whose production is much more energy-intensive than plant-based materials, such as organic cotton[10].







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The implementation of fracking methods for extracting oil or natural gas has been widely criticized and banned for its environmental impacts, which include ground and surface water contamination, the prompting of earthquakes, noise and air pollution, along with health effects in surrounding populations. Nevertheless, in 2021 Stand.Earth Research Group uncovered supply chain links from U.S. fracked gas to polyester producers supplying the global apparel industry. The research tracked ethane from fracked gas coming from Texas and Pennsylvania to Ineos, a major European importer of this compound. Ineos manufactures ethylene oxide and its derivative monoethylene glycol, from which polyester is derived, being the largest producer of ethylene oxide in Western Europe, with a capacity of 935,000 tons annually. The research estimates around one-third of this capacity ends up as polyester fiber used by the fashion industry, including production made by Indorama Ventures, one of the world’s largest producers of polyester fiber[10].
The fracked fashion's supply chain. Stand.Earth, (2021)
The environmental footprint of polyester concerns the GHG emissions associated with extraction and production, also their great contribution to the global plastic pollution crisis through the shedding of microfibers, as well as the change of land-systems due to the mentioned hydrocarbon exploitation.






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Although fossil fuels production is not a direct pressure causing deforestation, the roads, pipelines, and other facilities built as supporting infrastructure usually represent a significant role in changing the structure of landscapes through forest fragmentation. These changes can have a detrimental effect on forest biodiversity and ecosystems dynamics[11].


Just 2.4 percent of the world’s arable land is planted with cotton, yet it accounts for 24% of the world’s insecticide market and 11% of the sale of global pesticides. Having in mind that cotton is the most widespread profitable non-food crop in the world and the second most sourced fiber after polyester, these facts can give us an idea of the impact of this natural fiber when also recognize that still 69% of the globally sourced cotton comes from conventional production practices.








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Cotton’s most prominent environmental impacts result from the conversion of lands to agricultural use, the use of agrochemicals -especially pesticides- and the consumption of water. The application of substantial fertilizers and pesticides are inherent practices to the production of conventional cotton. These threaten the quality of soil and water, the downstream from the fields and the health of biodiversity as well as of farm workers and nearby populations. This is evident in ecosystems such as the Aral Sea in Central Asia, the Indus Delta in Pakistan and the Murray Darling River in Australia, where the diversion and pollution of water by cotton growing has had severe consequences[12].

Manmade Cellulosic Fibers

Manmade cellulosic fibers represent 6% of total fiber production volume, including viscose (80%), acetate (13%), lyocell (4%), modal (3%), and cupro (0.2%). The importance of these semi-synthetics lies on its production more than doubled from around 3 million tones in 1990 to approximately 6.5 million tones in 2020, with an expected further growth in the coming years8 as fashion progressively aims for more sustainable alternatives. Currently, about 40-45% of these MMC comes from uncertified forests, between 55-60% are produced with third party certificated feedstocks, and only 0,4% are recycled.












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By Raoul Croes, in Unsplash

Cellulosic textiles are often considered more sustainable than plastic-based fibers, but their environmental impact may be underestimated as far as they concern an intensive use of hazardous chemicals and depend on wood pulp as raw material with more than 200 million trees logged every year and turned into cellulosic fabrics[13]. Boreal and tropical forests in Indonesia, Canada’s Boreal, and Brazil are cut down to make way for plantations of just one to tree species for producing enough pulp to meet demand, reducing the biodiversity of these important ecosystems.
The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and the Program for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) are currently the leading third party certifications for sustainable forest management  and chain of custody. The global forest area certified by these organizations has increased from around 1% of all forest in 2000 to 11% in 2020, approximately 8% according to PEFC and 6% by FSC -meaning that 3% of all forest have both certifications. It’s worth highlighting the independent database provided by these two organizations as tools to find certified suppliers[14] [15].


With an annual volume of around one million tones, sheep wool is the most used animal fiber accounting for 50% of this category, but with only 1% of the global fiber production and a general decrease over the last 30 years[8]. Due to the extensive, free-ranging, pastured-based systems where most of the fiber animals are grazed, the impact of animal-based fibers -including wool- have a significant land use impact[16].








By Sam Carter, in Unsplash




By Andreas Felske, in Unsplash

While most of the cleared land for grazing and cattle activities represents a permanent change of land-system use[6], the alternative of grazing in forests without direct deforestation has been a controversial practice that could suppresses the shrub layer, affects grass and damages seedling, but if done with care, could also be an integral part of forestry management[17]. This way, regenerative methods are being implemented to not only prevent land degradation, but also to improve soil health by managing and monitoring variables such as timing of grazing, stocking rates, diversity of species in the herd, vegetation coverage and use of manures[8].
Different efforts for transitioning to regenerative practices in the wool sector are being tackled. The Regenerative Fund for Nature, for example, is a funding initiative launched in 2021 by Kering in partnership with Conservation International to transform one million hectares of farms and landscapes producing raw materials in fashion’s supply chains to regenerative agriculture over the next five years[18].
The certifications for sourcing wool have a less extended application compared to other types of fibers, with 1,2% of the wool market in 2020 but increasing over the last years by reaching up to 25% in key apparel wool producing countries such as South Africa[8]. The Responsible Wool Standard (RWS) is the most extended certification aiming to ensure the welfare of animals raised in extensive grazing and free ranging farming systems, as well as land management, biodiversity and social requirements, through audited standards.

Finally… How the protection of land-systems affects the fashion industry?

Efforts to protect forest cover are being tackle from different fronts. Here will be presented some initiatives shaping the decision making, accountability and disclosure on environmental impacts of fashion brands.

Global Fibre Impact Explorer

The GFIE was born out of a partnership between Google and the WWF in 2019, to complement existing mechanisms focused on industry impact and risk analysis. The tool, which is built on Google Earth Engine and uses Google Cloud computing, assesses the environmental risk of different fibers across regions as it relates to environmental factors such as air pollution, biodiversity, climate and greenhouse gasses, forestry and water use.
The GFIE dashboard where brands can upload their fiber portfolio data and get recommendations to reduce risk across key environmental categories
The goal is to give companies the data they need to make more responsible sourcing decisions, by being able to identify environmental risks across more than 20 fiber types — including natural, cellulosic and synthetics materials. The GFIE will also provide brands with recommendations for targeted and regionally specific risk reduction activities including opportunities to work with farmers, producers and communities, such as investing in regenerative agriculture practices[19].







By Sid Suratia, in Unsplash

Canopy’s Hot Button and CanopyStyle

Canopy protects the world’s forests, species, and climate by working hand in hand with companies from around the globe to transform unsustainable supply chains, catalyze innovative Next Generation Solutions, help advance frontline community rights, and conserve vital forest ecosystems all over the world. The CanopyStyle and Hot Button Report are the group’s initiatives related to the fashion industry.
The CanopyStyle initiative includes more than 487 brand partners working with the program to follow the thread to the source and find alternatives for fibre, keeping safe ancient and endangered forests. One of the main strategies are the audits of global fiber producers, based on a robust set of criteria to establish a credible, third-party verification. The audits are used by apparel brands as one of the reference points as they implement their CanopyStyle sourcing policies[12].
Canopy’s Hot Button Ranking and Report is the primary fibre sourcing analysis tool for the fashion sector that focuses on forests. It consists of a detailed matrix of viscose producer performance, and includes the CanopyStyle brands, retailers, and designers that are committed to responsibly sourcing viscose and other cellulosic fabrics[20].

Fashion Forever Green Impact by FSC

The Fashion Forever Green Pact is a call made by the Forest Stewardship Council for the fashion industry—brands, retailers and manufacturers alike—in September 2021, to take immediate action to ensure responsible sourcing on behalf of the world’s forests.
The goal is to convene companies for a positive change by supporting the sustainable production of renewable fibers through three main pillars: commitment to responsible procurement policies, certified sourcing and FSC labeling. By participating, companies proactively commit to responsible sourcing policies, sourcing 100% FSC-certified man-made cellulosic fibers within one year of signing the initiative and labeling at least one of their collections with the FSC label by 2025[21].

The Deforestation Due Diligence Laws

As a major economy and consumer of commodities linked to forest loss, the EU Commission proposed in November 2021 a new regulation to minimize deforestation and forest degradation that is provoked by EU consumption and production, which in turn is expected to reduce EU-driven greenhouse gas emissions and biodiversity loss. Six commodities – beef, wood, palm oil, soya, coffee and cocoa – and some of their derived products – for example leather, chocolate or furniture – are included in the scope of the regulation.









By Sasun Bughdaryan, in Unsplash

The proposal is part of a broader plan of actions to tackle deforestation first outlined in the Stepping up EU Action to Protect and Restore the World’s Forests (2019). The Regulation sets mandatory due diligence rules for operators which place specific commodities on the EU market that are associated with deforestation and forest degradation. Its purpose is to ensure that only deforestation-free and legal products are allowed on the EU market. This means that companies will be required to implement due diligence and traceability mechanisms. Also, a benchmarking system operated by the Commission to identify countries as presenting a low, standard or high risk of producing commodities or products that are not deforestation-free.
According to the EU Commission, combatting deforestation will go hand in hand with creating incentives for a transition toward more sustainable use of the natural resources, contributing to preserving more intact forests, boosting market opportunities for sustainable products, and eliminating unfair competition from unsustainable producers exporting to the EU market[22].

[1] Will Steffen, Paul Crutzen, and John Mcneill, “The Anthropocene: Are Humans Now Overwhelming the Great Forces of Nature,” 2008,[614:TAAHNO]2.0.CO;2.

[2] Will Steffen et al., “Planetary Boundaries: Guiding Human Development on a Changing Planet,” 2015,

[3] Johan Rockström et al., “A Safe Operating Space for Humanity,” 2009.

[4] Linn Persson et al., “Outside the Safe Operating Space of the Planetary Boundary for Novel Entities,” 2022,

[5] Jonathan Foley et al., “Global Consequences of Land Use,” 2005,

[6] Philip G. Curtis et al., “Classifying Drivers of Global Forest Loss,” 2018,

[7] WWF International, “Deforestation Fronts: Drivers and Responses in a Changing World,” 2021,

[8] Textile Exchange, “Preferred Fiber & Materials: Market Report 2021,” 2021,

[9] Ellen MacArthur Foundation, “A New Textiles Economy – Full Report | Shared by Fashion,” 2017,

[10] Stand.Earth, “Fashion’s Fossil Fuel Problem | Fossil-Free Fashion Scorecard,” 2021,

[11] Coral M. Roig-Silva et al., “Forest Cover Changes Due to Hydrocarbon Extraction Disturbance in Central Pennsylvania (2004–2010),” 2016,

[12] “Cotton | Industries | WWF,” World Wildlife Fund, n.d.,

[13] “CanopyStyle | Transforming Supply Chains and Taking Endangered Forests out of Fabric,” Canopy, n.d.,

[14] “FSC Public Certificate Search,” Forest Stewardship Council, n.d.,

[15] “PEFC Find Certified,” n.d.,

[16] Morten Lehmann et al., “Pulse of the Fashion Industry,” 2018,

[17] Anna Varga et al., “Prohibited, but Still Present: Local and Traditional Knowledge about the Practice and Impact of Forest Grazing by Domestic Livestock in Hungary,” 2020,

[18]  Kering, “Regenerative Fund for Nature,” n.d.,

[19] “Helping Fashion Brands Make More Sustainable Decisions,” n.d.,

[20] “Hot Button Report – Detailed Matrix of Viscose Producer Performance (2021 Edition),” n.d.,

[21] “Fashion Forever Green Pact,” Fashion Forever Green Pact, n.d.,

[22] “New Rules for Deforestation-Free Products,” Text, European Commission – European Commission, n.d.,

[23] Gustav Sandin, Sandra Roos, and Malin Johansson, “Environmental Impact of Textile Fibers – What We Know and What We Don’t Know – The Fiber Bible Part 2,” 2019,