At the recent Stella McCartney AW20 show in Paris guests were gifted a sapling. Wrapped in paper and tied with string, a note was attached which read: “We should all be carbon neutral now. We are absorbing the CO2 emitted by the show to make this a completely carbon neutral experience. Planting this tree is part of the solution.”
How many of these young trees made it off the Eurostar and into the ground we’ll probably never know. The prior season Dior grew a secret garden at the famous Longchamp Racecourse in Paris to stage its show and afterwards the trees were planted around the French capital to help offset the carbon emissions of the show.
New trees have become part of some quantum, climate change, environmental maths equation and, seemingly, the answer to many of our climate change woes. It’s an easy solution to carry-on-as-you-were by simply chucking money at the problem and hoping re-greening, by randomly planting new trees, is the band aid needed.
The Committee on Climate Change says the UK will have to plant 1.5 billion trees if it is to meet its pledge to reach net zero emissions by 2050 – and this needs to “happen quickly”. UK woodland cover needs to increase from 13% to 17%. It recommended that 30,000 hectares be planted every year, but if other carbon-reducing targets are not met, it said this will have to go up to 50,000. In 2018, the UK planted 13,400 hectares of woodland.
In the recent Labour 2019 manifesto, it said, if elected, it would plant 2 billion trees in the next 20 years. That would have been the equivalent of 100 million trees a year; the equivalent of three trees planted every second, day and night. These numbers are staggering and make the whole thing look too simplistic and far-fetched. Where would they all go? It’s as though all these trees will just magically appear. Done. Fixed.
European footwear brands such as Womsh, Faguo, Yatay have all made planting trees part of their brand ethos and USP. Yatay promise for every pair of shoes sold a tree will be planted in a specific area in Bore, Kenya and since 2014, Womsh has created and preserved 46 tennis courts of equatorial forest and offset 74 tonnes of carbon dioxide emission, equal to the consumption of more than 10 million sheets of paper.
Romain Teissedre, Faguo Communication Manager, says: “From the beginning, Nicolas and Frederic [the founders] wanted to be positive for the planet. They choose trees because it’s the best way to offset CO2. It encourages wood use too. We think that it’s better to use wooden materials instead of plastics or glass, because it continues to offset CO2. We symbolise that with a coconut button on all of our products,” he says.
“For each collection, we know how many Faguo products we will produce, so we ask our plant nursery workers (Naudet Pépinières) to find projects in France who want to forest or re-forest their land,” he says. “If they engage to care about the plantation and put a wood Faguo panel in front of the forest, then Faguo pay for all the plants in the field. Naudet Pepinières wait for the right season to plant and decide if they plant conifer or broad-leaved trees.” Faguo has planted 1.5 million trees in France since 2009 in 270 Faguo forests.
“It’s great, but not enough,” says Teissedre. “We need to install a more circular fashion to reduce our emissions. The beginning must be using recycled material!” 65% of Faguo products are made with recycled materials right now. It will be one 100% by 2024. “Planting a tree is good, but the most important act is reducing our footprint,” he says.
A whole industry of socially responsible companies have sprung to facilitate this new mania in tree planting from the fashion industry. Offset Earth helps companies and individuals offset their carbon footprint by supporting carbon reducing projects around the world including tree planting. Olly Rzysko is an advisor and co-founder for Offset Earth. Having worked in retail (specifically clothing/fashion) since he was 20, he knew the impact it was having on the environment and also the power it has to make a difference, quickly. He donates his time to Offset Earth having been really inspired by Elliot Coad, Alex Price, and Lucy Jack who founded it in 2019.
“The fashion industry, like most industries, is unable to completely remove its carbon footprint overnight, it may never be totally possible,” says Rzysko. “All the while our dwindling global carbon budget continues to drain faster than ever before. What we need to do until industries are fully decarbonised is pay to offset the footprint as it will increase the amount of time we have to live more sustainably,” he says. “You can do the offsetting by planting trees, protecting rainforests, and installing wind and solar farms.”
“At Offset Earth we don’t count tree planting as carbon reduced, the tree has not yet grown so the carbon has not yet been reduced. The trees we plant will absorb a lot of carbon though, and this calculation is often averaged over a 25-year growing period. Many tree varieties will keep on growing after this, and the carbon they sequester continues to accelerate. For Offset Earth planting trees is a backbone of what we offer – it’s what really ignites the imaginations of our subscribers, plant 12 trees a month for £4.50,” adds Rzysko.
So, what then, are the factors that customers should consider when supporting a brand’s tree-planting exercise? “You should look to find information on how the climate projects are being verified as to what they are doing. The projects we support are all verified by Gold Standard, an independent certification body, that raises the standard of the project to an exceptional quality. Other standards include Verra, Climate Action Reserve and Climate, Community & Biodiversity,” Rzysko says.
“Often you won’t be buying carbon offsets directly from them, so if you’re going through another company then ensure you’re happy with the level of transparency and thoroughness of the information, that has links to plenty of sources,” he says.
How can consumers trust that these trees will be planted and cared for once they are? “The actual project operator that is planting the trees needs to be well established and known for responsible reforestation. Our reforestation partners work with local governments and plant in newly nationalised parks, protecting them in perpetuity. There should be a monitoring period over 30 years in place, where an independent auditor ensures the stated number of trees are healthy,” Rzysko says.
“If the entire (fashion) industry offsets its carbon footprint it’d be a staggering boost to our global climate goals, but it is just one part of the solution,” says Rzysko. “The reason we need to use this tool is because it’s available today and is something most businesses can get behind without too much effort. The bigger picture is to remove the carbon footprint of the industry, and that will be slow to change. However, it needs the spotlight at all times to ensure we’re all marching in the right direction.”
Fashion app, Mallzee recently launched a Swipe To Plant initiative, partnering with One Tree Planted – a non-profit dedicated to global reforestation – to turn every swipe made on their free Mallzee apps into tree planting funding. The week-long green initiative focused on highlighting the sustainable fashion ranges available on the shopping app whilst also helping fund reforestation globally. In addition to helping consumers find their favourite fashions, Mallzee strives to reduce wastage in the fashion industry by partnering with retailers to improve their product selections and stock ordering through pre-release product testing.
Tree planting is fantastic, and nobody is going to say the world has too many trees, but it feels too easy and simplistic an answer in combating the impact of the fashion industry. Just carrying on regardless and saying you’ve planted part of a forest feels like the environmental equivalent of sticking a plaster over a gaping wound.
Many brands are doing great things and are transparent in their efforts, but consumers can feel blinded by the numbers and what it all means. It’s also clearly cheaper to plant trees in some countries over others due to land prices and labour costs. This trend is a positive one, but it does feel like some brands are jumping on the brand wagon and how much of this is checked, monitored and also cared for, with so much passing onto third parties, is ripe for abuse. Forget the wood, consumers need to see the trees.