The cotton-oriented portion of the Fiber Session focused on various aspects of sustainability, from its growing role in retail marketing, to the focus and meaning of the Better Cotton Initiative, to the mutiple challenges the industry faces in developing a sustainable supply chain.
The first speaker, Robert Antoshak of Olah Inc., focused on the relationship between cotton and the textile industry. Although they are technically at the end of the long cotton supply chain, retailers are really where it all begins, Antoshak said -- even in the case of sustainability, which used to be regarded primarily as a concern for those who grow cotton, not those who sell it.
The ability to offer 'green' products is a critical success factor at the retail level these days," Antoshak said. "If retailers can label their products as being environmentally friendly, they have an undeniable advantage among consumers in the marketplace.
People can debate all day long about what "being green" actually means, but in the end, it doesn't matter because perception is reality. "Buyers believe in 'green,' and it doesn't really matter whether they're right or not," he concluded. "It's what they're going to demand."
The second speaker, Ecom Cotton Group's Antonio Vidal Esteve, gave an impassioned presentation about ways the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) can eventually raise the bar on sustainability for the entire supply chain.
Esteve pointed out that it is still a common misconception that BCI is a non-governmental organization (NGO), when it was actually created by forward-thinking retailers such as IKEA, Levi's, Adidas, and H&M. "These companies don't actually need BCI today ... but they see that the day is coming when they will," Esteve said. "Sustainable production is not a 'cotton-only' issue, but it is an issue the cotton industry will have to find a solution for, just as other commodity supply chains have done. BCI is an industry-wide, umbrella solution."
One of BCI's biggest challenges has been the confusion about the use of the term "better." According to Andrew Macdonald, head of AMCON Consulting and moderator of the Fiber Session, "It's crucial that people realize 'better' doesn't refer to quality; it refers to improved production practices."
Esteve added, "The purpose of BCI is not to say that one type of cotton is intrinsically superior to another type of cotton. The purpose is to enable and promote sustainable best practices in all aspects of the cotton supply chain.
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