Ralph Lauren Corporation is taking a holistic approach to biodiversity by evaluating how its climate, water and materials initiatives intersect with the protection and conservation of the natural world.
The global lifestyle brand has a strong focus on land-based and animal-derived materials. The Company is working to adopt standards that push biodiversity forward and evaluating how regenerative agricultural practices can contribute to its climate goals.
Ralph Lauren is also homing in on its water impact, working with World Wildlife Fund (WWF) to evaluate water risk areas in its supply chain. As part of its efforts to preserve water, the Company, in partnership with Dow, recently released a detailed manual on how to dye cotton more sustainably and more effectively than ever before using ECOFAST™ Pure Sustainable Textile Treatment, a cationic cotton treatment developed by Dow. With this manual, Ralph Lauren and Dow are open-sourcing this improved dyeing process to encourage adoption in the textile industry and help standardize a more sustainable and efficient cotton dyeing system for positive environmental impact.
Textile Exchange spoke to Devon Douglas Leahy, VP of Sustainability at Ralph Lauren, about the connectivity between sustainability initiatives, and why approaching biodiversity through the lens of collaboration is critical to moving the industry forward.
Textile Exchange: How is Ralph Lauren working to adopt preferred fibers and materials in its supply chain, and how does this feed into its work on biodiversity?
Devon: Our goals around preferred fibers and materials sourcing are both ambitious and focused. We aim to meet at least one of our identified standards and sustainably source 100 percent of our key materials by 2025, which include cotton, cashmere, wool, down, leather, viscose and polyester – all materials that are sourced in high volumes or are particularly sensitive from an environmental impact or animal welfare perspective.
Two of our land-based material priorities are addressing the impacts of cotton and leather. We recently announced a significant investment in regenerative cotton in support of these priorities. The U.S. Regenerative Cotton Fund (USRCF), an initiative created through a funding grant from the Ralph Lauren Corporate Foundation, was crafted and launched in partnership with the experts at the Soil Health Institute as a unique, farmer-facing, science-based initiative that will ultimately support long-term, sustainable cotton production in the United States. It has a goal of eliminating one million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) from the atmosphere by 2026 and bringing regenerative practices to 1 million acres of farmland
To support more sustainable leather sourcing, we engage in Textile Exchange’s Leather Impact Accelerator—a program dedicated to aligning members of the leather value chain to achieve meaningful sustainable impacts.
Textile Exchange: How is Ralph Lauren approaching the issue of biodiversity in its sustainability work?
Devon: Our formalized biodiversity strategy is currently in development but much of its foundation is present in our strategy today – from our materials goals to our climate commitments. For example, we recently set a goal to achieve net zero emissions by 2040, and we have a 30 percent greenhouse gas reduction target for 2030. In addition, there is our 20 percent absolute reduction target for water use by 2025, and we are building out the contextual targets therein. All of these strategies have connections to and implications for biodiversity.
So, as we develop this strategy and look at setting science-based targets for nature, we will leverage our existing goals and targets while ensuring we are measuring and understanding the impact we are having on biodiversity and vice versa.
Textile Exchange: Ralph Lauren is working with the WWF on water stewardship. What does this partnership involve, and how does it intersect with biodiversity?
Devon: Our multi-year partnership with the WWF is key to our commitment to be stewards of a resource that is vital to our industry. We have started by identifying the parts of our value chain where we use the most water and where there is high water risk. Water risk is very connected to biodiversity impacts as it measures relative levels of access, quality and quantity, among other impacts. The water risk assessment work has helped us to identify key geographies and partners to work with to address those risks while increasing the resilience of our supply chain through collective actions. We are in the first year of this work, but plan to grow its reach and impact and ensure it is aligned with our future commitments to biodiversity as well.
Textile Exchange: Ralph Lauren’s recently launched cotton dyeing manual in partnership with Dow is a powerful message to the industry about collaboration, and potentially a major benefit to biodiversity. Can you share some more about this?
Devon: Earlier this year, we announced our collaboration with Dow for the implementation of ECOFAST™ Pure Sustainable Textile Treatment, which is a process to treat fabric and enables it to uptake dye with up to 90% less process chemicals, 50% less water, 50% less dyes and 40% less energy.
The use of this technology in the cotton dye process is the result of many years of collaboration between Ralph Lauren and Dow. We were looking for solutions that could be scaled using existing processes, and ECOFAST™ unlocked that. For next steps, we are looking to marry up the rollout of this across our value chain, informed by where we see potential to address water risks, and consequently, biodiversity risks.
We know that the potential for impact is bigger than one brand changing the way it dyes cotton. So, we released an open-source operating manual to guide others through the practical application of using ECOFAST™ in the hopes this will spur deeper collaboration and broader amplification.
Textile Exchange: Do you think that this kind of collaboration and information sharing is key to accelerating progress in the textile industry towards improving outcomes for biodiversity?
Devon: Absolutely. The way that the Fashion Pact and Textile Exchange are working to create this shared focus has been so catalytic because it is rooted in collaboration. If we as an industry were to engage with science-based targets for nature individually, we would not have the knowledge base, ambition and potential for impact that we have now, just a year or so into this journey.
We certainly hope to continue progressing through deep collaboration and contributing to and learning from the great work of Textile Exchange and the Fashion Pact on biodiversity.