Canopy's Nicole Rycroft: fiber industry in need of "bold environmental change"

Canopy's Nicole Rycroft: fiber industry in need of

© Nicole Rycroft, Founder & Executive, Director Canopy

Replacing plastic packaging in favor of fiber-based alternatives is putting pressure on the world’s endangered forests. Nicole Rycroft, Founder and Executive Director of not-for-profit organization Canopy, advocates for “bold environmental change” to protect forests through collaborative partnerships with luxury brands and suppliers. 

How are luxury players positioned to move the needle forward? What does Canopy offer in terms of packaging?

Nicole Rycroft: We have a deep expertise within the packaging and forest-based supply chain. Canopy currently works with 800 corporate customers of paper-based packaging or wood-based textiles to transform unsustainable, extractive supply chains and kick start production of low-carbon next-gen solutions. More than 50% of the wood logged to produce pulp and paper goes to consumer-facing packaging; the segment is a major driver of forest degradation and loss. Keeping forests standing is the fastest, cheapest, and most efficient way to stabilize our climate. It’s 30% of the solution.

Luxury brands are increasingly replacing plastic with fiber and pulp. How is this affecting forests?  

NR: We’re already seeing the impact. The global cosmetics industry alone produces around 120 billion units of packaging a year—much of that is plastics, but a significant amount is paper. Companies are looking at paper as an alternative to plastic, without fully analyzing the risks that poses to endangered forests. It’s tantamount to trading in one environmental disaster for another.

E-commerce is also putting stress on paper consumption.

NR: Things aren’t trending the way we had hoped. E-commerce purchases generally carry seven times the amount of packaging than bricks-and- mortar retail and e-commerce continues to be a growing share of brands’ business.

What does Canopy’s Pack4Good policy offer brands?  

NR: Pack4Good assesses supply chains to identify potential risks: the location of their fiber baskets, the mix of those baskets… The program is a ‘guiding star’ that offers a roadmap for departments ranging from innovation to purchasing, sustainability and product development, the goal being zero tolerance for packaging that comes from endangered forests. Instead, the company will prioritize low-carbon, next-gen solutions. While raising awareness on a brand level, it also sends clear signals to suppliers on what their R&D priorities should be if they want to remain a go-to supplier. Obviously using more recycled fiber as opposed to virgin fiber (even if it’s FSC certified) is a great way to mitigate that risk. Recycled fiber requires 50% less energy and water to turn back into packaging.

Do you also work with suppliers?

NR: Yes, in addition to the 140 brands with Pack4Good commitments in place, we currently have five suppliers with parallel commitments. We’re increasingly working with manufacturers and converters as 80% of impact of scope 3 emissions for brands is wrapped up in that third tier of manufacturing and sourcing. We work on forest impact as well as on the low carbon next-gen side of things.

Canopy is rolling out regional hubs in 2023 to produce next-gen materials.

NR: To reach global scientific targets, we need to protect 30-50% of the world’s forests by 2030. Next-gen solutions can diversify the fiber basket that is now used to make pulp and packaging, and by 2030 we aim for 50% of that basket to come from next-gen alternative feedstocks. Our regional hubs will secure critical mass for next-generation mill infrastructure and attract investment to build a broad ecosystem around the mill. We’ve mapped market proximity, where our brand partners are located, as well as where there is fiber availability, and our first hubs will be in Europe, North America and likely India and Southeast Asia.

Canopy works with tech entrepreneurs: some are looking to set up mills to build straw pulp, others want to license their technology or partner with an existing conventional producer. We’ll assist conventional producers who want to integrate new fiber sources and technologies to retrofit an existing facility or add a new line. We’re also involved in scaling the investment required to see a significant shift.

What materials should the packaging sector be looking to?

NR: Recycled fiber is at the top of the pyramid for any LCA perspective. As brands shift away from plastics, we want to ensure that they aren’t just moving to wood fiber, but using agricultural residues and food grain harvest byproducts, hemp, wheat straw or other grasses. These all have excellent qualities for packaging. Smart packaging design is also paramount—there are huge savings to be made when it comes to shipping boxes, which for the most part are single-use.

What else in the pipeline?

NR: Transforming the global pulp packaging and viscose supply chains to new low-carbon next-gen alternatives will require an investment of $64bn. We’re focused on helping to enable that scale of investment.

This content was published in Formes de Luxe's fall 2022 issue.

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