Open letter to global fashion industry urges brands to reconsider using biomass as an alternative to fossil fuels in fashion supply chains in order to protect forests.

  • Fashion brands like H&M, Adidas, and Zara are swapping coal for biomass, but this is a greenwashing tactic that will delay the transition to clean renewable energy.
  • Biomass production increases the risk of deforestation – threatening tropical forests that provide rich biodiversity, habitats for endangered animals, livelihoods for local communities, and an essential defence against climate change.
  • The fashion industry must phase out fossil fuels, leapfrogging the practice of burning biomass, and accelerate the adoption of genuinely clean energy sources like solar and wind power.

The Indonesian government plans to replace up to 10 million tonnes of coal with biomass such as sawdust, wood pellets, palm kernel shells, and rice husks. According to Trend Asia, the escalation of energy crop plantations needed to meet this target could risk the loss of over 2 million hectares of natural forest – equivalent to 35 times the area of ​​Jakarta province or 3.27 million football fields.

Indonesia hosts one of the largest remaining tropical forests in the world, including the only remaining natural habitat of endangered Sumatran orangutans and home to a diverse range of rural Indigenous communities. However, this paradise is under threat from deforestation driven largely by the timber, wood pulp, and palm industries. Meanwhile, the human rights, livelihoods, and wellbeing of local people are affected by the increased conversion of land to monoculture energy crops in Indonesia, including impacts on food security and air quality.

The fashion industry is driving demand for this controversial fuel by promoting biomass as an alternative to coal for their suppliers across Southeast Asia. Claims that biomass is carbon neutral are usually based on accounting loopholes that assume trees and crops will regrow and restore the CO2 released into the atmosphere from the deforestation caused – a claim that has been debunked by climate scientists. 

What’s more, woody biomass actually generates more greenhouse emissions per kilowatt hour of electricity than coal because CO2 is generated at each stage of harvesting, processing, and transportation. Therefore, if fashion brands are serious about sustainability, they must focus on phasing out coal as well as forgoing biomass burning to push for a cleaner and greener energy transition. 

16 non-profit organisations focused on climate justice, energy, nature and conservation have signed the letter, including: Enter Nusantara, Kanopi Hijau Nusantara, Auriga Nusantara, Koaksi Indonesia, The Rainforest Action Network, 350 Indonesia, Srikandi Lestari, WALHI (Friends of the Earth Indonesia), WALHI Jawa Barat, Traction Energy Asia, Koprol Iklim, Sajogyo Institute, AEER, PENA Masyarakat, YLBHI (Yayasan Lembaga Bantuan Hukum Indonesia), and Trend Asia.

Amalya R. Oktaviani, Biomass Portfolio Manager in Trend Asia, states that: 

“The energy transition should exclude biomass from a renewable energy designation. Trend Asia’s research has shown how the use of wood biomass in thermal power plants would produce an extra 26,48 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent. Biomass burning also produces particulate matter and nitrogen oxides that are harmful to health. Furthermore, the adverse implications of biomass use do not end there, as the expansion of monoculture plantations to produce biomass will result in deforestation, land grabbing, escalating social conflicts, and threats to food security. A clear example can be seen in the biomass development in Merauke, Papua, which has taken over indigenous peoples’ forests and caused deaths due to food insecurity. Another example is the deceptive practice of biomass power plant development in the Mentawai Islands, which threatens the forest and the existence of Mentawai’s indigenous communities. Monoculture plantation practices will also contribute waste that pollutes water, soil and air. If the fashion industry insists on using biomass in order to be perceived as transitioning to renewable energy, it will only add to the long list of environmental damage and community suffering. This move towards biomass will also exacerbate the climate crisis and contradict commitments to reduce emissions. If the industry is serious about energy transition, it must go beyond combustion-derived energy sources. We encourage an energy transition that not only uses renewable energy, but also prioritizes the principles of justice and sustainability.”

Beyond Indonesia, biomass is being promoted by the fashion industry as a so-called ‘low carbon’ alternative to coal for thermal energy in other Southeast Asian countries including Cambodia where a recent investigation revealed links between garment factories and dangerous illegal logging activity. 

This letter urges fashion brands to reconsider supply chain decarbonisation strategies that rely on biomass as an alternative to fossil fuels, and instead shift the investment to clean renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. 


Please download a PDF of the open letter here.

Please contact Ahmad Ashov ([email protected]) for further information.