Nicole Rycroft is an accomplished environmental activist, an Ashoka Fellow, and, unusually, a former physiotherapist and elite rower. A systems thinker, she confronts the world’s rapid and dangerous destruction of forests with the same holistic, solutions-focused perspective she once used to address the root cause of symptoms in a patient. 

Over the last two decades, as the Founder and Executive Director of the Canada-based NGO Canopy, Nicole has transformed the supply chains of some of the world’s biggest fashion brands and publishers. Nicole’s novel strategy uses her corporate partners’ purchasing power and political clout to incentivize governments, packaging and fabric producers, and the forest industry to change unsustainable practices and adopt solutions. In 2013, Canopy launched CanopyStyle, a campaign to end the negative impact of viscose fabrics on the world’s ancient and endangered forests. At that time, very few companies knew their clothing was connected to forest destruction. The campaign has since grown to over 320 brand partners, and more than half of the global viscose supply chain is now ranked as being at low risk of containing fiber from vital forests—a dramatic transition in only a few short years. Today, Nicole’s organization maintains partnerships with over 750 companies, helping brands and producers eliminate the need for forest destruction. 

With her Climate Breakthrough Award, Nicole is looking to scale up her approach in order to meet the recommendations of climate scientists: that 30-50% of the world’s forests be conserved or in restoration by 2030. Nicole’s ambitious breakthrough strategy is focused on shifting paper, packaging, and clothing production away from high-carbon forest ecosystems entirely by developing markets for disruptive new technologies. Nicole’s work will aggressively accelerate the commercial production of low-carbon Next Generation alternatives that use waste materials like straw, waste textiles, and microbial cellulose grown on food waste. These alternatives will replace precious forest fiber in the world’s supply chains and build new green industries in a circular economy. 

A change on this scale requires rebuilding supply chains across multiple industries and the financing and construction of hundreds of new alternative mills. While the task is daunting, Nicole remains focused on achieving what is required to mitigate the worst of climate change. It is this unapologetic ambition that has driven her success to date and makes her a natural fit as a Climate Breakthrough Awardee.