In the past viscose was viewed as the sustainable choice of material that could save the world. However, over the years, it has gradually contributed to further global deforestation as well as releasing more toxic chemicals into the atmosphere.
Viscose has had a supply chain problem for years ever since it was labelled as the sustainable material to use, however campaigners have recently identified the semi-synthetic as one of the reasons for major deforestation and polluting the environment.
Scientists have developed a brand new man-made cellulosic fibre, which includes viscose, have been outlined in a report by both Textile Exchange and Forum for the Future alongside big players in the fashion industry.
This brand new man-made cellulosic fibre catergory, which was once dominated by viscose and rayon now includes modal, cupro, lyocell and acetate; when used together they are the third most common fibre used all around the world. This new report will address all the environmental impacts that have been caused in the production process, as well as looking at the shift in how the world has started making stronger efforts to become more sustainable. Instead of solely focusing on the negative aspects, the report has a focus on how we can generate new positive impacts.
Currently the major concern is biodiversity, as well as deforestation. The human race has wiped out ecosystems, some even speculate that this could have been a cause of the Covid-19 pandemic, but scientists are warning us that we are only having a taste of the consequences caused by our actions.
The Canadian organisation Canopy has worked alongside Kering, Stella McCartney and Eileen Fisher since 2013, to help shift the ways they source the viscose that they use as well as other materials that can be sourced from wood. The CanopyStyle campaign has made a significantly big dent in deforestation and ecoystems being destroyed for people to source viscose. Now there are similar campaigns beginning that are aimed at the chemical process that transforms wood pulp in fibre. However, campaigns like this are usually very isolated, and rarely have connections that connect or guide them to solve one problem, when new problems are constantly being created.
One thing that needs to be spoken about more when we are speaking about the harmful effects of viscose is the impact on local communities where you source viscose. Past research has uncovered that regions you get viscose, they are often poverty stricken, but when people have a path out of poverty, deforestation also declines. Eileen Fisher has worked directly with cotton and wool suppliers, ensuring fair wages and safe working conditions for workers whilst also supporting sustainable practices; however this does not apply to wood based materials. Tracking impacts on human life is more complex and different regions will harvest viscose differently.
With the information we now have, we are trying to create a circular economy within fashion. Business models right now might not be able to adapt to this as easy but if companies replace their price based paradigm with values that have ecological and social benefits, it could be a major success story in the journey to a sustainable industry.