NGO Joint Petition to Cease the usage of Biomass in the Fashion Industry
November 8, 2023
Dear UN Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action,
We write as representatives of concerned environmental justice, climate, and civil rights organizations. We wish to bring to light an issue of grave significance – the utilization of on-site biomass boilers in the fashion industry – and petition for the immediate cessation of its usage due to its negative environmental and social impacts.
UN Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action (UN Fashion Charter hereinafter) has taken leadership in calling for signatories to pledge to phase out on-site coal from the supply chain by 2030. Due to the efforts of the low-carbon manufacturing and decarbonization working group within the UN Fashion Charter, phasing out on-site coal usage has shown signs of encouraging progress. However, a new issue – the growing use of biomass in the fashion industry as a substitute for fossil fuels – emerged accordingly, which has sparked the attention of civil society organizations. As many brands look to phase out coal-fired boilers, burning biomass has been misleadingly promoted by the fashion industry as a short-term bridge fuel to replace fossil fuels. Biomass, often sourced from materials like wood, crop residues, rice husks, and palm shells, is incinerated to generate thermal energy used in various fabric treatment processes. Its ascension as a “bridge fuel” to replace coal, however, has been notably misleading, thereby potentially locking the industry into a false solution for the long term. More importantly, scaling up the use of biomass will have detrimental impacts on the climate, ecosystem, human health, and the transition to renewable energy in Asia. This potential for environmental, economic, and social harms contradicts the sustainable development goals that the fashion industry, as a prominent global player, should uphold.
First, burning biomass can increase GHG emissions within international fashion brands’ supply chains. Despite assertions in the industry, biomass is not the carbon-neutral energy source it is frequently promoted to be. Rather, it has been demonstrated to generate higher carbon emissions than conventional fossil fuels, particularly when accounting for the CO2 emitted during cultivation, transportation, and processing phases, as well as the depletion of carbon stocks resulting from forest harvesting. The emissions from additional upstream logistics, which are often overlooked in carbon accounting, cumulatively enhance the overall carbon footprint of the fashion industry value chain and exert long-term impacts on the environment.
Second, a surge in on-site biomass boilers is leading to increased deforestation, ecosystem degradation, biodiversity loss, and land resources competition. Research has found that the demand for wood pellets and chips from garment factories of some international fashion brands fuels the illegal cutting, transporting and selling of timber in Cambodia. This has been proven to exacerbate forest degradation, destroy the local ecological environment and threaten the survival of wild animals. Biomass co-firing has shown the potential to damage Indonesian natural forests. Crops grown for biomass compete with food production for land, water, and other resources. This is particularly true in densely populated countries where agricultural land and food resources are already limited.
Third, biomass burning negatively impacts the health of workers and the environment of local communities. Crop residue burning in India has been found to emit various pollutants that pose a serious threat to human health and the environment. Particulate emissions from the process of burning biomass waste of palm fibre and shell in Malaysia have caused concerns. Stockholm Environment Institute Asia has documented pollutants including soot and particulate matter, nitrous oxide and sulfur dioxide released from on-site boilers in Cambodia’s textile industry as having seriously threatened the health of workers and local communities.
In light of these challenges, it is essential for the UN Fashion Charter to reevaluate its signatories’ reliance on biomass boilers with a thorough understanding and comprehensive strategy. While the commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions is commendable, we strongly believe that the UN Fashion Charter needs to re-examine the sustainability of using biomass as a “renewable” energy source and stop legitimizing its use as an alternative to coal or gas. Investing in biomass boilers is a distraction from the real solutions needed such as investing in wind and solar immediately and advocating for clean energy supply.
Consequently, we urge the UN Fashion Charter to reconsider its stance on biomass and take the following measures:
- Revise Guidance: Update recommendations to members to exclude the use of on-site biomass boilers and support an equitable transition away from fossil fuel dependence.
- Encourage Renewable Energy: Motivate brands and stakeholders to stop sourcing biomass and scale availability of cleaner and truly renewable sources of energy like solar and wind within the fashion supply chain through incentives, guidelines, and educational programs.
- Maintain Transparency: Regularly release updates regarding the industry’s progress in shifting to cleaner energy sources, ensuring transparency and accountability are upheld.
We trust that you will give this petition the attention it merits. We look forward to seeing the fashion industry champion the cause of truly sustainable energy and contribute positively to the fight against climate change. We believe that the UN Fashion Charter, with its significant influence and reach, is ideally placed to lead this crucial change.
|Action Speaks Louder||Australia|
|Australian Forests and Climate Alliance||Australia|
|Biomass Action Group (BAG) Australia||Australia|
|Centre for Environmental Law and Community Rights Inc||Papua New Guinea|
|Changsha Shuguang Environmental Protection Public Welfare Development Center||China|
|Climate Risk Horizons||India|
|Comité Schone Lucht||Netherlands|
|Environment East Gippsland inc||Australia|
|Healthy Indoor Environment||Denmark|
|Nature Nova Scotia||Canada|
|OXfam in Bangladesh||Bangladesh|
|Protect the Forest||Sweden|
|Red por la Superación del Modelo Forestal, Chile (Network for forestry model superation)||Chile|
|Sahabat Alam Malaysia (Friends of the Earth)||Malaysia|
|South East Regional Conservation Alliance Inc (SERCA)||Australia|
|Spruill Farm Conservation Project||USA|
|Walhi West Java||Indonesia|
|Wild Europe Foundation||United Kingdom|
|Wuhu Ecology Center||China|