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Fashion’s Push to Switch Coal for Biomass a ‘Greenwashing Tactic,’ Advocacy Groups Say

Support for the fuel from companies like H&M, Adidas and Inditex risks delaying a transition to cleaner energy sources and increasing deforestation, the organisations said.
An Indonesian villager protests against the use of biomass like wood pallets or sawdust as fuel for power plants.
An Indonesian villager protests against the use of biomass like wood pallets or sawdust as fuel for power plants. ( Jefri Tarigan/Jefta Images/Future Publishing via Getty Images)

Big brands’ efforts to get coal out of their supply chains by encouraging a shift to biomass like wood pellets and rice husks is a “greenwashing tactic” that risks delaying a transition to cleaner energy sources and increasing deforestation, a group of 16 Indonesia-based environmental advocacy organisations have said.

In an open letter to the industry published earlier this week, organisations including Rainforest Action Network and Friends of the Earth Indonesia warned that the fashion industry’s current decarbonisation strategies have failed to take into account the detrimental impact of biomass on communities in Indonesia and other parts of Southeast Asia.

Existing plans by the Indonesian government to scale up its use of the feedstock to meet renewable energy targets have already put some two million hectares of natural forest at risk in the country, according to analysis by Trend Asia, another signatory of the letter.

The fashion industry is an important part of the Indonesian economy and highly influential on the country and the potential for further expansion of biomass to fuel the sector “is alarming,” the letter said.

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Companies including H&M Group, Adidas, Inditex and Puma are looking at biomass as a low-carbon alternative that could serve as a near drop-in solution to coal used in boilers during the energy-intensive process of dyeing and finishing fabrics.

Signatories to the UN Fashion Charter have committed to stop onboarding new suppliers that use coal-fired boilers by this year and to phase them out of their supply chain completely by 2030. Inditex said it only suggests the use of biomass when there is low availability of other renewable alternatives and that it specifies any feedstock should be sourced responsibly. Puma said it only accepts renewable biomass from sources like agricultural waste and it monitors suppliers using the fuel to ensure they meet local air quality standards. H&M, and Adidas did not provide comment.

But biomass is a controversial alternative, not only because of its links to deforestation, but also due to associated impacts on local communities and additional pollution caused by burning feedstocks like wood pellets.

“Fashion brands which claim to be serious about sustainable energy should really focus on phasing out coal as well as forgoing biomass burning,” the letter said.

Learn more:

Can Fashion Quit the World’s Dirtiest Fossil Fuel?

Companies like H&M and Puma are pushing to get coal out of their supply chains by the end of the decade.

Editor's Note: This article was revised on September 29, 2023 to include comment from Puma.

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