A future where resilience and regeneration runs through every fibre

By Dr. Sally Uren at Forum for the Future | June 22, 2020

Dr Sally Uren discusses the context for the MMCF Vision and the plans to build on the existing MMCF Roundtable and the newer Hub in order to create a vehicle for accelerated action, faster collective innovation and problem solving and to build resilience and regenerating society and the environment. 

Read this article on Forum for the Future here

Many everyday items, from tissues to clothes, are made from fibres. It’s a reasonably safe bet that something that you are wearing right now is made of cellulosic fibre – a category that includes cotton, as well as man-made cellulosic fibres (MMCF). For those who aren’t familiar with the term, MMCF includes Viscose, Cupro, Rayon and Lyocell, just to name a few varieties. They are predominantly made from tree cellulose, but can also be made from pre-consumer waste cotton and agricultural residues. This cellulose is pulped using a process very similar to that of paper production and then, using a different chemical process depending on the type of MMCF, is dissolved, spun, washed, dried and turned into filament, fibre and yarn.

Though currently a relatively small part of the overall fibre market, the use of MMCF is on the rise. Before the pandemic hit, MMCF volumes were expected to increase significantly, nearly doubling to 10 million tons annually within the next 15 years. Whilst it may still only form a small proportion of the total raw materials that fashion and home textile brands buy, volumes are set to rise, particularly as MMCF produced using waste materials offers an opportunity to make real progress towards a circular economy. Although demand in these sectors may have slumped temporarily over the last few months with the onslaught of COVID-19, demand will have continued to rise in the beauty and personal care sectors as we take extra care. Wipes, diapers or nappies, sanitary products – all of these product categories are experiencing a switch to MMCFs as key raw materials and this is set to continue. 

Whilst MMCFs offer huge potential for a circular economy, production of the fibres can have negative impacts on both people and the planet. It is no surprise therefore that a number of prominent and respected organisations have turned the spotlight on MMCF producers. ZDHC, a collaboration of apparel and footwear brands and retailers, is paying particular attention to the chemicals that are used. The non-profit Canopy, which publishes The Hot Button Report, is paying attention to where and what kinds of forests the dissolving pulp originates from. In addition, organisations such as the Changing Markets Foundation are focused on the uniform adoption of best available standards.

All in all, there is a lot of activity, but no shared view within the value chain – from manufacturers to brands – as to what a sustainable MMCF sector could look like.

This is why at Forum for the Future, in partnership with Textile Exchange, we have been working for the last 12 months to support the industry in building a vision that sets out the contribution it can make to building resilience and regenerating society and the environment. 

A vision is only as good as the action taken towards it. Just like in any industry, within the MMCF sector there are leaders and pioneers, there are organisations that are just waking up to the possibilities of regenerative business models, and there are those who remain in the dark. Through building this vision together, we hope that more organisations will take action along the value chain towards making it a reality. In order to ensure that this action is coordinated and sufficiently ambitious, Forum, Textile Exchange and the industry are planning to build on the existing MMCF Roundtable and the newer Hub, to create a vehicle for accelerated action, faster collective innovation and problem solving, and to build a space where the warp and weft of many change makers’ efforts can come together, to ensure that in every fibre lies a source of resilience and regeneration.

Contact Anna Warrington at a.warrington@forumforthefuture.org if you are interested in finding out more.

Read more about the MMCF Vision 

Download the MMCF Vision

The vision is very much a call to action. Not all of it is 100% possible, and it is certainly not 100% viable in today’s economic system. But by using this vision as a guiding North Star, and by acting collectively on the enablers it sets out, including new financial mechanisms and policy advocacy, the industry could potentially play a huge part in creating a circular economy in textiles and beauty and personal care, protecting areas of high carbon value, and creating prosperity in a way that tackles some of today’s structural inequalities.

MMCF Vision 2030