By Kurt Wheelock
UNITED NATIONS, July 16 — Actor Michelle Yeoh has been on a journey to find an outfit that that does not damage the Earth. On July 16 she brought to the UN in New York a film about her quest, called “Made in Forests.” It was presented during the High-level Political Forum for Sustainable Development, and features Italy’s Cittadellarte Fashion B.E.S.T., an art foundation that promotes sustainable fashion design through art and education. There designer Tiziano Guardini created a dress for Yeoh made entirely of certified sustainable wood-based fibers.
Speaking on the sideline of the High-level Political Forum, Yeoh recounted how she became a Goodwill Ambassador for the UN Development Program two years ago, and undertaken missions from UNDP to places such as China and post-earthquake Nepal. She emphasized Sustainable Development Goals 1, the eradication of poverty, and Goal 5, gender equality, saying you can’t have one without the other. She listed road safety, AIDS and cancer as among her most pressing concerns.
Yeoh and her husband Jean Todt were in Nepal during the earthquake, then Yeoh traveled back for UNDP. She said, “The people of Nepal aren’t simply looking for handouts they’re looking for a helping hand so that they can help themselves. I know that the Government of Nepal and UNDP have shared a long history of trust and credibility, a lasting and continuing partnership, over 50 years.”
“Made in Forests” is an 8-minute video produced by the UN Economic Commission for Europe / Food and Agriculture Organization’s (UNECE/FAO) Forestry and Timber Section together with the United Nations Television in Geneva.
“The connection between our clothes and our impact on the environment doesn’t immediately come to mind,” Yeoh said. “If a jacket or a skirt or a dress looks good, and we can afford it, we buy it. But the environment pays the price.”
“Given its ecological footprint, today’s fashion is an environmental emergency,” says Olga Algayerova, Executive Secretary of UNECE. “We need to move from a fashion sector with a high impact on the planet to one that is inspired and uses natural resources sustainably. Forests can help this transition,” Algayerova says.
“Made in Forests” highlights how conventional material choices rely predominantly on cotton and polyester – two materials with a high environmental impact. Cotton uses large amounts pesticides and insecticides, and very large amounts of water. Polyester is made from fossil fuels: each time polyester clothes are washed they release tiny plastic microfibers that often end up in the oceans, harming marine life and polluting our food chain.
New research and technology innovations provide a promising opportunity: environmentally-friendly wood-based fibres from certified sustainably managed forests. These fibres produce recyclable, renewable and biodegradable textiles, which require considerably less energy and water in their production compared to cotton and synthetic fibres.
Through certification, consumers and companies can make responsible choices and use their purchasing power to support the sustainable management of the world’s forests. Building trust in forest products creates additional demand, and ultimately also increases the value of forests.
Creating additional value is one of the best ways to keep forests standing, UNECE/FAO experts say, as it prevents them from being cleared for alternative, unsustainable land uses. Maintaining forests and creating sustainable forest value chains is critical for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.
Currently shooting for a new season for “Star Trek: Discovery”, Michelle Yeoh says that the production of the UN video “Made in Forests” opened her eyes to the need to make new choices being made in the world of fashion. “Sustainable fashion isn’t some futuristic idea for people on another galaxy,” she said. “It’s a choice we all need to be aware of, here and now, for a better life on our planet.”