Unveiling the Smoke: Fashion’s Biomass Boiling Point

December 21, 2023
The fashion industry is using biomass to heat up their on-site boilers as a transition fuel but do fashion companies actually have a transition off of biomass plan?
Aerial view of biomass production site in the middle of the forest

In the face of a mounting climate crisis, the global fashion industry finds itself at a pivotal moment, contributing between 2-8% of global emissions. Let’s delve into the concerning trend gaining momentum within the industry: the adoption of biomass boilers as a seemingly “green” alternative. Despite their purported eco-friendliness, these biomass boilers bring with them a host of environmental, health, and social risks, jeopardizing the industry’s true transition to renewable energy.

What’s the Deal with Biomass?

Fashion brands are jumping on this biomass train, thinking it’s a quick fix. They call it “sustainable biomass,” but let me tell you, there’s no such thing. Big brands like Uniqlo, Gap, H&M, Zara, Nike, and PUMA are switching to biomass as if it’s as cool as wind or solar power. But here’s the catch – it’s not.

Appealing to Responsibility

Fashion brands must prioritize long-term sustainability over short-term gains, and here’s what we can ask them to do:

  1. End Transition to Biomass:
    • Brands should ditch these boilers and go for cleaner options like solar or wind energy.
    • Invest in clean alternatives such as solar and wind energy.
    • Transparently communicate actions to promote and invest in renewable energy among manufacturers and policymakers.
  2. Prove No Harm:
    • Brands need a solid plan to switch to renewable energy.
    • Disclose energy use details, including type, origin, quantity, transactions, and carbon footprint.
    • Uphold international standards on business and human rights through environmental and human due diligence.
  3. Advocate for Policy:
    • Take full responsibility for environmental and social impacts.
    • Actively engage in advocacy initiatives to influence policymakers to endorse policies favouring renewable energy.

The Greenwashing Dilemma

Ever heard of greenwashing? It’s like putting a shiny “green” label on stuff to trick us into thinking it’s good for the planet. Biomass is getting the greenwashing treatment from big brands. They say it’s eco-friendly, but it’s causing three big problems:

  1. Messing with the Climate:
    • Biomass burning can emit as many or more greenhouse gas emissions than fossil fuels.
    • Emissions during cultivation, transportation, and processing phases contribute to a higher carbon footprint.
  2. Harming Nature:
    • As demand for biomass grows, so does its impact on healthy forests and biodiversity.
    • Biomass is causing deforestation, messing up ecosystems, and competing with food.
  3. Making People Sick:
    • People near where they burn biomass are breathing in bad stuff that’s not good for them.
    • Pollutants emitted from biomass boilers pose risks to human health and the environment.

Asia’s Biomass Boom

Despite evidence of harm, fashion giants like Fast Retailing, Gap, H&M, Inditex, Nike, and PUMA are pushing their suppliers in countries like Cambodia, China, India, and Indonesia to increasingly integrate biomass boilers into their operations.

A Call for True Sustainability

We have to shed light on the flawed narrative surrounding biomass in the fashion industry. It’s time for fashion brands to acknowledge the true cost of biomass burning, a practice neither green for the planet nor safe for its inhabitants. Instead of intensifying the use of biomass boilers, brands should embrace genuine sustainability:

  • End Transition to Biomass:
    • Where possible decommission existing biomass boilers, supporting suppliers in transitioning to clean alternatives.
    • Invest in cleaner energy solutions like solar and wind, minimizing environmental and social trade-offs.
  • Prove No Harm:
    • Commit to a well-executed plan for transitioning to renewable energy, disclosing energy use details and complying with international standards.
  • Advocate for Policy:
    • Take responsibility for environmental and social impacts.
    • Engage in advocacy for policies endorsing renewable energy and discontinuation of biomass in the fashion industry.

Fashion, as an influential industry, holds the power to lead transformative change toward a just renewable energy transition. It’s time to extinguish the flames of biomass burning and pave the way for a greener, cleaner future. Let responsibility, not rhetoric, guide the path to sustainability in fashion.