EPN’s groundbreaking work on more robust methods for Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) of roundwood, pulp and paper products is making waves: Leading third-party certifier SCS Global Services (SCS) has announced the release of a powerful LCA study, commissioned by luxury designer, Stella McCartney, comparing the environmental performance of ten different raw material sources of manmade cellulose fibre (MMCF). The cutting-edge study addressed a comprehensive set of impact categories relevant to MMCF production, factoring in critical yet previously omitted impact categories such as ocean acidification, climate hot spot impacts, forest disturbance, and key species losses. Land use conversion and species impacts were studied using transparent, publicly available data and using innovative methodologies consistent with those recently developed by EPN and other experts for roundwood and paper products.

The study examined a broad range of environmental issues, from the time raw materials are obtained from global forests, agricultural operations or other sources, through the production of viscose (also known as rayon) and other MMCFs. The report is being made publicly available as a resource for all brands, designers and retailers interested in making informed fibre sourcing choices.

This is the first study using LCA, an internationally recognized scientific methodology, to assess global sourcing scenarios for all ten raw materials, including an evaluation of specific forests of origin and terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems. The study included MMCF sourced from different global forests, eucalyptus plantations, bamboo, cotton-linters, flax fibre and recycled clothing.  The global sourcing scenarios selected are representative of a variety of real-world options.

“This is the most comprehensive LCA published evaluating the environmental performance of manmade cellulosic fibres,” said Tobias Schultz, who headed up the project team for SCS as its Manager of Corporate Sustainability Services. “We applied the latest science and data, based on a standardized LCA Methodology, to complete the evaluation, which was then peer-reviewed by a multi-stakeholder panel of experts. This level of scrutiny ensures that the report’s findings are robust and reliable.”

The study concluded that the choice of raw material input is key to determining the environmental profile of MMCF. While none of the ten raw materials or global sourcing scenarios were environmentally preferable across all impact categories, MMCF made from Belgian flax emerged as favorable across a majority of the impact categories, followed by viscose produced from recycled clothing. The analysis found that Asian production from Canadian boreal forest pulp, Chinese production from Indonesian rainforest pulp, Chinese production from Indonesian plantation pulp, and Indian cotton linter pulped in China had the heaviest environmental footprints among the scenarios examined.

The Stella McCartney brand is deeply committed to sustainability and this study ensures the brand that its own MMCF products are free from fibres derived from ancient and endangered forests. Furthermore the information provided in this study will be a resource for the entire industry as it provides insights into wide range of impacts that a brand’s or supplier’s sourcing of manmade cellulose fibres can have on the planet’s forests. The study incorporates the most up-to-date, scientific information, emphasizes the criticality of businesses embracing closed-loop fibre solutions.

Representatives from Price Waterhouse Cooper (PWC), the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, the Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development at Utrecht University, and the environmental not-for-profit organisation, Canopy, participated on the peer review panel. The LCA was conducted in conformance with internationally recognized ISO 14040 and 14044 LCA standards, the draft LEO-S-002 standard, and the Roundwood Product Category Rule (PCR).

“This rigorous study provides important new insights into how the choice of fibre source determines the impacts of man-made cellulose fibre on the world’s species, forest ecosystems and freshwater, as well as our global climate and human health.” said Nicole Rycroft, Canopy’s Executive Director. “For Canopy, these findings reinforce the need to prioritize and advance commercial-scale production of fabrics made from closed-loop fibre solutions such as agriculture residues and recycled fabrics.”

On November 30th, SCS Global Services will host a webinar with Schultz presenting key findings from the Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) study. This webinar will discuss the details of the study, providing an overview of the key findings, methods, and data sources used, enabling personnel at brands, designers, and retailers to make more informed fibre sourcing choices. Click here to register.