Discussions around ambitious visions are always risky. You’ve been there: someone chimes in with the familiar refrain “but it just can’t be done” or conversely someone is convinced that “we’re already doing this” and lists initiatives that in no way answer to the scale of the challenges. As a result, chairing these discussions can keep you up the night before, particularly when the vision focuses on issues critical to societal resilience and environmental regeneration.

On July 13, after a semi-decent night’s sleep, I had the privilege to host stakeholders from across the Man-Made Cellulosic Fibre value chain in two conversations on the new Net Positive MMCF 2030 Vision. The two sessions were co-hosted by Forum for the Future and Textile Exchange as the culmination of a year of participatory vision building. This vision sets out ambitions in five key impact areas, and explicitly recognises the role of 10 critical enablers. (You can also view the Asia-friendly and US-friendly recordings of these sessions.)

I walked away from the sessions with five key observations as we move from paper to action, from islands of good to connected impact towards this vision:

  • The vision is ambitious, and may be seen as impossible unless you have a ‘transformation’ mindset. Improvements have to start from where we are, yet often that means we are tied to incremental steps forward. Looking at where we want to be can unlock more transformational thinking. As one producer remarked, a shift from a volume based business model to creating more value through responsible business activities, where economic gains are more equitably distributed, can be done but it is certainly ambitious and won’t be achieved through continuous improvement.
  • People sit at the centre of achieving this vision; they are the heart of any successful drive for change. Every panellist agreed that you cannot succeed at Regenerating ecosystems, Producing with zero harm or Enabling circularity without Creating prosperity or Upholding rights. The application of deep science is essential, but so is designing with an empathic understanding of the people directly and indirectly involved. Otherwise, it’s possible that actions could result in unintended consequences that in fact undermine the vision. For efforts to deliver lasting change, we need to implement from both the ground and 10,000ft in the air simultaneously.

  • MMCF is interconnected with multiple other systems, so collaboration is no longer only a ‘nice to have.’ Participants in the webinar indicated in the survey that ‘collaboration across the value chain’ would be key to making this vision happen. The discussions however highlighted that it’s not just about the MMCF value chain. From its links to the paper and packaging value chain, to the newly forming connections with agricultural wastes and recovery of waste textiles, to the commodities (such as palm oil) being grown as part of the same landscape, MMCF is fundamentally interconnected with other value chains. Rather than reducing agency, this can mean collaboration on aspects of the vision can be even more impactful and far-reaching.

  • Knowing where products come from is just the starting point. As traceability becomes increasingly sophisticated and the wave of pressure for transparency shows no signs of losing energy, many brands have focused on knowing where they’re buying from and choosing from the ‘right’ locations and suppliers. As with other challenges however, such as child labour, it is becoming increasingly clear that buyers with good governance are crucial to encouraging and enabling standards to increase. Understanding the challenges with your value chain, and together doing what is needed to address them, will move the mean, not just pass on the problem elsewhere.

  • There is real energy behind achieving this vision, recognising that urgent and long-term actions must happen hand in handWe have to be honest, it’s not been easy engaging everyone in this visioning process, so we often held our breath as we asked how involved they’d like to be in taking this vision forward. When nearly half said they wanted to be actively involved, and a further third ‘somewhat’ involved, we took that as a promising sign of the momentum to make this happen. It won’t happen without organisations stepping forward with resources and an openness to meaningfully collaborate towards this vision. We’re looking for people and organisations that have either or both. If that sounds like you, we invite you to get in contact.

Thank you to our discussants (Boris Saraber (Earthworm Foundation), Sharon Chong (Sateri), Peter Bartsch (Lenzing), Krelyne Andrew (Sappi), Cherie Tan (APR), all our participants and the Textile Exchange and Forum team for a healthy, pragmatic and ambitious discussion on the Net Positive MMCF 2030 vision

So now, the sleepless nights will come from minds whirring over addressing tricky systemic challenges, rather than reactions to a vision.

The vision is here, it can act as a north star for all as long as the industry steps forward as good as their word.

To access the recordings of the discussions please see the link on this project page.

To join the conversation now, access the Textile Exchange MMCF Roundtable Hub.