Avatar

Forests produce the oxygen we breathe, create rain, and shield us from climate change and disease. They are the homes and sources of livelihood for an estimated 1.3 billion people, and the areas with the most biodiversity on land. Intact, primary forests all over the planet — which have 40x higher carbon sequestration potential per hectare than new plantation forests — have already been reduced to less than one-fifth of their original extent through industrial logging and other kinds of deforestation.

A photo of a woman wearing glasses and a purpose suit.
Nicole Rycroft, Founder and Executive Director of Canopy Planet. Photo Credit: Ryan Lash / TED

Nicole Rycroft, Founder and Executive Director of Canopy Planet, has spent the last 25 years protecting the world’s forests, advancing international human rights, and sparking the shift to a global green economy. She is an Ashoka Fellow, member of the UBS Global Visionaries program, recipient of the Meritorious Service Cross of Canada, winner of the 2020 Climate Breakthrough Award and a 2022 Global Australian of the Year. Nicole spearheads Canopy’s strategic direction and many of Canopy’s senior level partnerships.

Canopy’s partnership with the Cisco Foundation is built on a shared belief that supporting innovation at scale to address significant social problems has the potential to achieve a global impact. We see great synergies between our organizations as Canopy works to catalyze a transformation in the extractive pulp, paper, packaging, and viscose supply chains by spurring the commercial-production of low-impact Next Generation Solutions (Next Gen) to mitigate the climate crisis.

Let’s start with the basics. What is Canopy Planet, and what do you do? 

Nicole: Canopy is an award-winning, solutions-driven NGO dedicated to protecting the world’s forests, species, and climate and advancing Indigenous and frontline communities’ rights. We do this by harnessing the purchasing influence of the global marketplace to transform supply chains that are driving deforestation and forest degradation. Since our inception in 1999, Canopy’s unique model of change has been based on building transformational partnerships with hundreds of the world’s largest brands. We leverage our 900+ brand partners’ purchasing clout to create the economic incentives to transform unsustainable supply chains, catalyze commercial-production of low-carbon Next Generation Solutions, and secure landscape-level forest conservation and community rights. We are dedicated to helping conserve 30 -50% of the world’s forests by 2030.

Can you share more about the impact of logging on ecosystems? 

Nicole: In 2021 alone, we lost more than 25 million hectares of forests globally, releasing ten billion tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Logging for pulp, paper, packaging, textiles, and solid wood products is a carbon intensive supply chain that perpetuates a ‘take, make, waste’ model that drives the degradation and loss of climate-critical forests.

With forests foundational to life on Earth, we need to accelerate the transition from forest-based goods like packaging and viscose to production that relies on circular and low-impact feedstocks that keep forests standing — places like the Leuser Ecosystem in Indonesia, one of Canopy’s Landscapes of Hope. The Leuser Ecosystem is one of the world’s richest intact tropical rainforest ecosystems. It is the last place on earth where the Sumatran elephant, rhino, tiger and orangutan are found within one area, and it provides habitat for thousands of mammal, bird, reptile, amphibian, and plant species. In addition, the Leuser Ecosystem is the life-support system for seven million people that rely on it for clean air, water, flood protection, irrigation, medicines, and their livelihoods. Continued unsustainable demand for forest products puts places like the Leuser Ecosystem at peril.

An orangutan in a green forest
The Leuser Ecosystem is one of the world’s richest intact tropical rainforest ecosystems. It is the last place on earth where the Sumatran elephant, rhino, tiger and orangutan are found within one area. Photo Credit:Ruben Hoekstra

Cutting down forests is not just about paper. Can you share more about all the kinds of products, packaging and textiles logging supports? 

Nicole: The connection between fashion and forests isn’t immediately apparent, but the third largest group of fashion textiles — rayon and viscose — is derived from trees. So is the packaging in which fashion and many other goods are shipped around the world. Over 3.4 billion trees are logged annually to make textiles and packaging and when you add in paper, that number is a staggering 5.1 billion. Much of this logging occurs in the world’s most ecologically and culturally valuable forests, which Canopy calls Ancient and Endangered Forests. These landscapes are pivotal to life on earth. The pressure on forests is only intensifying: packaging has increased by 65% over the past two decades, while the use of trees to make fabrics has more than tripled. Both are projected to grow significantly in the coming years.

What are some of Canopy Planet’s major accomplishments so far?

Nicole: Some of our accomplishments include:

  • Helping over 900 brands develop and implement robust environmental purchasing policies for their paper, packaging and viscose textiles.
  • Showing that Being Stylish Doesn’t Have to Cost the Earth. We launched CanopyStyle in 2013 to transform the viscose supply chain and keep Ancient and Endangered Forests off the runways and out of our wardrobes. Today, 536 brands representing USD 905 billion in annual revenues have developed CanopyStyle polices to end sourcing from Ancient and Endangered Forests and to prioritize the use of Next Gen alternatives. More than half of global viscose production is now verified at low-risk of containing high-carbon, biodiverse forests and the first Next Gen textiles are now available and on the market.
  • Launching Pack4Good in 2019 to ensure we don’t continue to mow down 400-year-old trees to make shipping boxes and take out containers. In just three years, the Pack4Good campaign has secured 390 brands worth a collective USD 199 billion in annual revenues. Pack4Good has also been moving the needle on the production side: leverage from global brands has resulted in packaging producers signing policies to end sourcing from critical forest ecosystems and to invest in Next Gen. Momentum is growing every day, so watch this space.
  • Developing Next Gen Solutions over a decade ago. Canopy has been the only NGO promoting diversifying the fiber basket as a key strategy for forest protection. To date, we have directly catalyzed 300,000 tonnes of new annual Next Gen production into the market and we are linked to an additional 1.7 million tonnes of new production in development. Just last month, Canopy’s ambitious plan to catalyze 60 million tonnes of Next Gen in the next ten years was recognized by The Audacious Project, a TED initiative. Alongside of our work with the Cisco Foundation, the support from Audacious will supercharge our work to catalyze the global scale-up of Next Gen production — and in doing so take the pressure off forests so we can conserve more than 220 million acres of forests globally.
  • Securing conservation in 41+ million acres of forests to date through our work with brands and local NGO partners.

Can you tell us more about Next Gen pulp technologies? You previously mentioned partnering with the first pulp recycling plant. 

Nicole: What many people don’t know is that there is a strong pipeline of forest-free, clean-production pulp alternatives ready for market — such as paper pulp made from straw, and textile pulp made from discarded cotton textiles. While we call these Next Generation Solutions, they are actually a new spin on rediscovered inputs used for paper and textiles for millennia — flax, hemp, recycled fabrics. Despite their ubiquity now, forests are actually relatively new fiber sources, having only entered industrial pulp production within the last 150 years.

Next Gen pulps have 95 to 130% fewer greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. They have 88% to 100% less land-use impact, and at least 5x lower impact on biodiversity and threatened species. Further, by using clean production processes and creating a profitable use for inputs that would otherwise be discarded in landfills, burned, or disposed of at a cost to farmers, these pulps contribute to healthier, more profitable communities and avoid secondary pollution issues. And best of all for brands and buyers: Next Gen pulp products perform just as well as their conventional peers — and are projected to be comparable in price or cheaper once produced at scale.

Canopy is supporting independent innovators to scale their technologies, informing commercial-scale approaches for previously niche products, and encouraging adoption by mainstream producers for retrofitting existing conventional mills. Last year, we were on site in Sundsvall, Sweden to celebrate the official opening of Renewcell, the world’s first commercial-scale, textile-to-textile Next Gen pulp mill for viscose production. Instead of requiring huge swaths of forests to be cut every year, Renewcell uses hundreds of millions of old jeans and t-shirts as its input. Renewcell carries five tonnes less carbon per tonne of product than conventional wood-based pulp. It uses 90% less water, is built in the bones of an old shuttered wood mill, and has re-employed 100 of the staff.

In addition to Renewcell, we are currently working with a pipeline of more than 30 other Next Gen innovators who are turning ideas that sounded like science fiction five years ago into elegant, versatile solutions for today. Canopy has also played a vital role in generating strong market pull-through, with hundreds of brand policies and over half a million tonnes in explicit purchase demand from leading brands.

A pile of clothing in a warehouse
Renewcell is the world’s first commercial-scale, textile-to-textile Next Gen pulp mill for viscose production. Photo Credit: Alexander Donka

I also understand you use some cutting-edge software for your work, including the Eco-Paper Database (EPD) and ForestMapper. What kind of information do they provide? And how can people access them?

Nicole: The EcoPaper Database is the world’s largest database of high recycled content and Next Gen packaging and paper. Today, it includes more than 1100 listings of Ancient Forest Friendly™ and other packaging and paper products that use high amounts of lower footprint feedstock including recycled and Next Gen materials.

ForestMapper is an interactive map developed by scientific and mapping experts to help buyers and suppliers locate Ancient and Endangered Forests and identify areas of potential sourcing risk to assist in the transition to more sustainable supply chains. It is the only tool of its kind to visually represent Ancient and Endangered Forests at a global scale and includes information on forests, species, carbon and landscapes. We’re working with leading scientists on an update of ForestMapper for later in 2023.

Both ForestMapper and the EcoPaper Database are free of charge and designed to be user-friendly. They can both be found on Canopy’s website under the Tools and Resources section.

You were at COP27. What kind of engagement did you receive there? 

Nicole: COP27 marked an important milestone for Canopy as partners announced a collective commitment to purchase over half a million tonnes of low-carbon, low-footprint Next Gen packaging and textile alternatives once they’re commercially online. This bold public statement was designed to send a signal to the investment community and help unlock the capital needed to build commercial-scale Next Gen pulp mills as well as conventional producers. Over the next two to three years, we anticipate we will secure the financing necessary to build 12 – 15 Next Gen mills, preventing an estimated 22 million tonnes of GHG emissions annually and providing communities with an alternative to burning straw and landfilling textiles.

The market pull-through announced at COP27 is essential to de-risking these new supply chains and attracting the scale of investment necessary to rapidly scale these game-changing Next Gen alternatives. Canopy will be doing more of this over the coming years but this bold initial commitment by our partners at COP was a positive step forward for the planet and low-carbon supply chains.

How do you assist or partner with local communities, including Indigenous peoples in the areas Canopy Planet works in?

Nicole: Canopy has strong relationships with Indigenous leaders and local NGOs across North America and around the world. We support the efforts of our on-the-ground partners and Indigenous leaders by bringing the influence of the international market at strategic junctures to advance robust conservation of key landscapes and support the development of conservation-based economies for local communities. It is our local and international partners that largely lead policy negotiations with local governments and community economic development. Canopy brings critical leverage that creates the economic and political incentives for industry and governments to change ‘business as usual’. This can range from brands participating in customer roundtables with political and forest industry decision makers to encourage a more sustainable path forward for both the forests and communities. We work with some of our brand partners to directly fund on the ground conservation efforts through investments in robust carbon offset programs or philanthropic programs focused on advancing biodiversity. Many of our brand partners have stopped sourcing from suppliers that have operations in high-carbon, biodiverse landscapes and link future purchasing to large-scale conservation and advancements in human-wellbeing for Indigenous and local communities.

We have also been proud to support conservation efforts by Indigenous leaders and local NGOs in Canada’s Great Bear Rainforest, the Cree Nation’s territory in the Boreal Forest, and Indonesia’s Leuser Ecosystem. To date, Canopy’s market leverage has contributed to the protection of 41 million+ acres of Ancient and Endangered Forests around the world.