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Stella McCartney Commissions First-Ever LCA for Manmade Cellulosic Fibers

Image credit: Stella McCartney

Luxury fashion label Stella McCartney has released the results of a new Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) comparing the environmental performance of ten raw material sources of manmade cellulose fiber (MMCF). Conducted by third-party certifier SCS Global Services (SCS), the study examined a broad range of environmental issues, from the sourcing of raw materials through to the production of viscose and other MMCFs, with the aim of providing key industry stakeholders with resources to make informed fiber sourcing choices.

This marks the first time LCA has been used 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 fiber and recycled clothing.

“This is the most comprehensive LCA published evaluating the environmental performance of manmade cellulosic fibers,” said Tobias Schultz, Manager of Corporate Sustainability Services at SCS. “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 inputs is the determining factor in the environmental profile of a given MMCF. Of the 10 raw materials and various global sourcing scenarios accessed, none were deemed as environmentally preferable across all impact categories. Belgian flax and viscose produced from recycled clothing did, however, outperform other MMCFs in a majority of these areas. The analysis found that Asian production from Canadian boreal forest pulp, Chinese production from Indonesian rainforest and plantation pulp and Indian cotton linter pulped in China had the most significant environmental footprints among the scenarios examined.

Stella McCartney has been outspoken in its support for creating a more sustainable, responsible industry, thereby establishing itself as a sector leader. Most recently, the brand obtained Cradle to Cradle Gold certification for its wool yarn and struck up a new partnership with Bolt Threads, a Bay Area-based tech startup known for its Engineered Silk™. The LCA is the next logical step for Stella McCartney in achieving its mission to be a responsible, honest and modern company and pushing the needle forward on sustainable, circular fashion.

With the insights from the LCA, Stella McCartney can ensure that its own MMCF products are free from fibers derived from ancient and endangered forests. What’s more, the study’s results offer insight for the industry into a wide range of impacts that a brand’s or supplier’s sourcing practices can have on forests around the world. The assessment incorporates the most up-to-date, scientific information and emphasizes the circularity of businesses embracing closed-loop fiber solutions.

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). Representatives from Price Waterhouse Cooper (PwC), the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, the Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development at Utrecht University and the environmental nonprofit Canopy participated on the peer review panel.

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

According to SCS, the groundbreaking study addressed a comprehensive set of impact categories relevant to MMCF production, factoring in important, yet previously omitted, impact categories such as ocean acidification, climate hotspot impacts, forest disturbance and key species losses. Land use conversion and species impacts were studied using innovative methodologies and transparent, publicly available data. The global sourcing scenarios selected are representative of a variety of real-world options. Three of the sourcing scenarios are in areas that fall under Canopy’s definition of ancient and endangered forests and are therefore of particular interest for the 105 global fashion and apparel brands signed onto the CanopyStyle initiative.


Libby MacCarthy is an Editorial Assistant at Sustainable Brands, based in Maine and France. She is a former urban planner specializing in sustainable cities, and an urban farming and film photography enthusiast. She holds a BA in Environment, Society and… [Read more about Libby MacCarthy]