In conversation with...Nicole Rycroft


Nicole Rycroft - Founder and Executive Director of Canopy, recipient of a 2021 Climate Breakthrough Award and long-time partner of Laudes Foundation, shares her thoughts on the link between business and forests and what the fashion industry can do to protect ancient and endangered forests.



Can you tell us more about Canopy and the work you do to save ancient and endangered forests?

Canopy is a solutions driven, not-for-profit organisation working to protect the world’s forests, species and climate, and advance frontline and indigenous communities’ rights. We do this by harnessing the power of the marketplace. For the past 20 years we’ve worked with large corporate customers of paper, packaging and wood-based fabrics (like rayon and viscose) to help companies develop cutting-edge environmental policies and motivate their supply chains to transform their practices.


You are a recipient of this year’s Climate Breakthrough Award. How do you plan to use the grant to catalyse your mission at Canopy?

I’m incredibly honoured to receive the award from Climate Breakthrough. We will dedicate this to breaking down investment barriers that currently exist to scaling Next Generation Solutions. Our focus will be to mobilise more investment into creating low-carbon, commercially viable fibre alternatives to rapidly shift paper, packaging and clothing production away from high-carbon forests. The award puts wind in our sails to forge next generation solutions to save forests and turn the tide on the climate crisis.


What role do fashion brands play in supporting your mission?

As a modestly resourced NGO, it’s almost impossible to change the behaviours of seven billion individuals. What we can do is change the purchasing decisions and behaviours of two thousand senior executives who work within companies that spend millions and sometimes billions of dollars every year on forest products. Our brand partners are a really important part of our ability to successfully influence change in unsustainable supply chains. We have been able to secure the attention and commitment of viscose producers that represent 90 percent of global production and have been able to shift more than 52 percent of global viscose out of high-carbon and high-biodiversity landscapes because we have 320 brands that represent US$580 billion in annual revenue standing at our side.


What is the link between forests and fashion?

It’s not that obvious, but if you checked your labels you may see that you have rayon, viscose, modal, tencel, lyocell or cupro in your clothing. Every year, 200 hundred million trees disappear into viscose and rayon fabrics and this number is slated to double in the next decade. For the past seven years we’ve been working with Laudes Foundation (and previously C&A Foundation) to ensure the fashion industry doesn’t become a major driver of deforestation, forest degradation and human rights violations. The fashion industry also uses a lot of packaging – and with three billion trees disappearing into shipping boxes and other packaging every year, this is another area that we’re working with brands.


If a brand collaborates with Canopy, what are they committing to and who are your brand partners?

When we first started reaching out to brands, many were unaware of the link between forest ecosystems and the silky fabrics they were integrating into their styles. To date, we have 320 brand partners on board with CanopyStyle commitments, which means they’re committed to not sourcing from ancient and endangered forests, working with us and each other to help kickstart commercial-scale production of next generation solutions and working to help protect forests at a scale that’s proportional to the challenges of our time. We have giants of the industry like Amazon, Target, H&M and Zara as well as pacesetters like C&A, Stella McCartney and many in between. Because these brands are sending a very consistent message to viscose producers, we’ve been able to galvanise similar momentum within the viscose supply chain.


You recently had two successful ad campaigns, one with Vivienne Westwood and one for London Fashion Week. Could you tell us more about the way you market with brands?

For the most part, communications is so integrated into marketing for our brand partners that it needs to be a very tailored approach. We co-produced a video with Vivienne Westwood called Vivus. They commissioned a talented spoken word artist and a visual artist to raise the awareness of fashion lovers of the link between forests and fashion and what could be done. We worked to define the goals of that push, but the creative articulation of it was something they delivered. And we received an outpouring of support for our #SolutionsAreSexy campaign at London Fashion Week. There were hundreds of pieces of media pick up because it was fun and made an interesting point that next generation solutions are viable, beautiful and available now.


Canopy is also working on alternatives to wood fibre. Can you tell us more about that?

The scientific community is clear that we need to protect 30-50 percent of the world’s forests by 2030 if we are to avert both a collapse in biodiversity as well as stabilize our climate. There is no space for business as usual. Survival: A Pulp Thriller is our action plan to replace 50 percent of forest fibre that’s currently used to make pulp, paper, paper-based packaging and fabrics, and replace it with alternatives that are often seen as waste. Our roadmap for the next decade is to build clean, next-generation solution infrastructure around the world (where we have mapped out fibre availability). It requires a significant deployment of investment at a price tag of US$69 billion. That said, we’re already seeing the first of these mills being built.


That’s exciting. Can you give us an example?

Our work helped Renewcell get the green light for their first commercial-scale facility. The 60 thousand ton mill in Sweden will take waste textiles and turn them into pulp that is then integrated back into the fashion supply chain. One of our viscose-producer partners developed a five-year offtake agreement with Renewcell and that is what helped them unlock their financing and now they’ve gone onto issuing shares on the stock market as well.


Canopy has also done great work protecting endangered forests and finding alternative livelihoods for indigenous communities. Can you tell us more about what you’re currently working on?

We have been doing work with communities and local government decisionmakers in the Leuser Ecosystem, which is the 2.6 million hectare area in northern Sumatra. It’s the last place on earth where orangutans, tigers, elephants and rhino all still co-exist and there are four million people who live in this landscape. We brought a delegation of local decisionmakers from civil society and government over to the Great Bear Rainforest in Canada, which is a global model of conservation and transition to a conservation-based economy. The Great Bear Rainforest moved from 90 percent of it being open to logging and high levels of unemployment in the First Nations communities to 85 percent of the forest being off-limits to logging and significant advances in human wellbeing. We’ve also been to Leuser with experts from the Great Bear Rainforest, to start mapping out what the options are for a “Built in Aceh” solution and what the pathway could be. We work with these decisionmakers so that they’re aware industrialised, extractive liquidation of their natural assets is not the only way forward, but that local communities, with support, can actually move forward and build vibrant conservation economies.