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If you want to save the world, you can either jam a stick in the spokes or you can hop on and pedal in a better direction. Nicole Rycroft prefers to pedal. Rycroft, 47, founded Canopy 15 years ago. At that time, sitting with friends around her Tofino kitchen table, $1,800 in the kitty, she envisioned a little watch group that might bear witness to the logging of Clayoquot Sound.
The group focused on paper. In only three years, she formed relationships with Canadian book publishers and major retailers, educated them on the downside of sourcing from ancient forests, developed a process to certify alternatives to old growth, and, happily, met a boy wizard who changed everything. In 2002, Rycroft convinced J.K. Rowling’s Canadian publisher, Vancouver-based Raincoast Books, to print Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix on her Ancient Forest Friendly paper; for the next installment, eight other countries jumped onboard.
Today, Canopy-now with 10 staff and a budget of $850,000-has set its sights on new partners. “It was a campaigner who brought this to us,” Rycroft says in Commercial Drive’s Continental Coffee, a half-block from Canopy’s offices above Federico’s Supper Club. Shopping for clothes, this campaigner was noticing ever more tags for “green” and “natural” clothing, often rayon-based. “It created a thought cloud and got us researching.” What they discovered: logging companies, seeking new markets as demand for newsprint and high-quality paper lessened, had found fashion. “Rayon and viscose have been part of the textile mix since the 1920s.” What’s new, she says, is that production has ramped up aggressively over the last five years: 11 percent growth where other pulp sectors are declining. Up to 100 million trees (at least a third from ancient and endangered forests) are being logged to provide rayon and the like; that supply is meant to double in the next two decades.
So Canopy reached out, as it had with Harry Potter. The response, in only 18 months, has been remarkable, Rycroft says. Some of the world’s largest clothing producers, including H&M and Zara, have signed on to Canopy’s Fashion Loved by Forest pledge (Canopystyle.org), requiring suppliers to remove endangered trees from their textiles within three years. The 20 brands Canopy has so far organized represent $45 billion in combined sales; more importantly, they point the way forward for all clothing producers. “They are amplifiers of these issues,” Rycroft says, “showing what leadership looks like and engaging customers in solutions. No one wants to join the army of the glum. This way, we’re empowered. This is where change happens.”