The ‘Forests for Fashion’ initiative is a joint project by PEFC (Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certifi cation), UNECE (United Nations Economic Commission for Europe) and FAO (Food and Agriculture Organisation). Its aim is to increase the value of forests, ensuring their long-term maintenance for the benefit of all stakeholders, as well as to unlock new markets for sustainable timber and contribute to the fashion industry’s objective to become sustainable.

The challenge is clear: cotton is a water intensive crop. It takes more than 10,000 litres to make one pair of jeans, equalling what one-person drinks in 10 years.

Furthermore, despite covering only 3% of arable land, cotton production relies on 24% of all insecticides and 11% of all pesticides used globally, with serious implications for the environment and the workers.

Synthetic fibres are oil-based and energy intensive to produce. Seventy per cent of the climate impact of the total clothing life cycle comes from their production.

When we wash clothes made from synthetic fibres, they shed microfibres. Every year, around half a million tonnes of these microfibres enter our oceans.

What is the solution? How can we produce clothing that does not pollute our planet, use up significant quantities of water and harm the health of those that produce it?

An important – and very sustainable – part of the answer is in our forests.

New technologies mean we can use wood fibres to produce recyclable, renewable and biodegradable textiles. Yarn from cypress, beech and eucalyptus trees can make fibres for clothing – the most popular of these are Viscose, Modal and Lyocell.

These materials are environmentally friendly, requiring less energy and water to produce compared to cotton and other synthetic fibres. The production of forest fibres uses one third of the energy and 1/60 of the water compared to cotton production.

Fashion brands are increasingly designing with textiles made from forest fibres, which is great news for our planet. However, we must know the origins of these fibres, to ensure they come from sustainably managed forests that will be around for generations.

This is where PEFC certification comes in. By specifying PEFC-certified materials within their procurement policies, brand owners can be assured the fibres they purchase come from forests managed in line with the strictest international requirements.

PEFC certification helps to build trust in forest products, creating additional demand and increasing the value of forests.

Creating additional value is one of the best ways to keep forests standing, as it prevents their conversion to alternative, unsustainable land uses.

Increasing the value of forests and the image of the forestry sector will also ultimately help the entire timber sector; further incentivising sustainable forest management and helping ensure long-term, sustainable raw material supply.

While forests can make an important contribution towards solving the challenges facing a sustainable fashion industry, PEFC can help ensure that sustainable sourcing is part of the solution.