Nicole Rycroft has been transforming unsustainable supply chains to save the world’s forests for over two decades. As founder and Executive Director of award winning environmental not-for-profit, Canopy, Ms Rycroft works with some of the world’s biggest publishing, print and fashion companies to introduce sustainable solutions for the manufacture and distribution of everyday products. Her collaborative approach to engaging with industry has resulted in major shifts in the sourcing and distribution practices of more than 800 companies, including global brands like H&M, Target, The Guardian, Penguin-Random House, Zara and Stella McCartney. Ms Rycroft launched her not-for-profit in Canada more than 20 years ago, in an effort to create a long-term solution to end deforestation. A passionate environmental activist, she had stood on blockade frontlines to prevent bulldozers and chainsaws from tearing down endangered forests for the purpose of producing every-day items like books, packaging and t-shirts. But she knew lasting change would require more than picket lines. In order to change corporate behaviour, she needed to change corporate consumer behaviours, which to date had accepted the destruction of ancient forests in exchange for cheap, convenient goods.
One of the first projects Ms Rycroft pursued was the ‘greening’ of Harry Potter. In 2000, shortly after launching Canopy, she reached out to the Canadian Harry Potter Publishers, Raincoast Books, for a conversation about the potential use of Ancient-Forest Friendly sustainable paper. Over the course of the next seven years, Canopy was able to secure the support of publishers across 23 countries – from the US to Australia, Canada to Israel, the UK to Argentina – to use eco-papers for the printing of millions of Harry Potter books, saving thousands of ancient endangered trees from logging, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and making Harry Potter the greenest book in publishing history.
Next, Ms Rycroft and the Canopy team focused their attention on the fashion industry, where more than one-third of the wood fibre used in viscose clothing production comes from endangered forests. Not only does Canopy work with big brands to examine and change their sourcing practices, the NGO also supports the development of innovative new manufacturing solutions to create more ‘circular’ fabrics and packaging and introduce them to the major buyers. Her goal is to generate strong market demand for alternatively sourced and sustainably manufactured products, as the fundamental driver of sustainable practices among the world’s biggest viscose and packaging producers. As part of this effort, Ms Rycroft has formed a global alliance of companies co-creating new purchasing practices at scale. Canopy’s work with the fashion industry, CanopyStyle, has 480 global brands retailers including H&M and Gap eliminating their use of endangered forest fibre and spurring the production of low-impact Next Generation fabrics.
Ms Rycroft’s revolutionary work has attracted global attention. She is the recipient of a Canadian Environment Award Gold Medal, winner of the 2020 Climate Breakthrough Award, and a recipient of the Meritorious Service Cross of Canada. Ms Rycroft is also a member of the UBS Global Visionaries Program and an Ashoka Fellow. Through Canopy’s dedicated work and partnerships, Ms Rycroft has demonstrated that global supply chains can be transformed from ‘business as usual’ to a more sustainable future, creating markets for circular economy solutions and transforming how thriving forests are valued in modern economies.
See Nicole’s response here to being named the Awardee of the Sustainability Award for 2022.