Most textile-apparel brands are failing on sustainable cotton benchmarks, a recent survey of as many as 37 international brands has found. Lack of uptake of more sustainable cotton is being seen as a massive missed opportunity. Subir Ghosh leafs through the 36-page report.

The problem with buzzwords is that they invariably whip up such a mindless frenzy and needless hype that people often forget what was it that had resulted in the creation of that buzzword in the first place. That's what is increasingly happening with "sustainability". Critics argue that so mired are companies with the "ends" in mind that the "means" are not being adequately kept track of. Many forget that sustainability is not an end in itself, but the means towards an end: a better world that is free and fair to one and all.

Every now and then, companies need to ask themselves, or maybe to others: is it (what we are doing) working at all? A recent survey of 37 well-known international brands indicates that it, unfortunately, is not. The majority of international companies using most cotton globally are failing to deliver on cotton sustainability, the study 'Sustainable Cotton Ranking: Assessing company performance' has revealed.

Just eight companies out of the 37 surveyed made it out of the red zone in the ranking research conducted by Rank a Brand, one of Europe's largest brand-comparison sites on sustainability and corporate social responsibility. Pesticide Action Network UK (PAN UK), Solidaridad, and World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) had commissioned Rank a Brand to research major cotton-using companies in primarily three areas: policies, actual uptake, and traceability. Most points were awarded for sourcing and use, with the companies being assessed according to volumes used from Better Cotton, Cotton made in Africa (CmiA), Organic, and Fairtrade-the four standards reckoned to be sustainable for the research in question.

Of the 37 companies evaluated, only eight companies scored at least 3.0 out of the maximum 19.5 points. Only home furnishing giant Ikea, which topped the ranking, scored in the green zone with 12 points. C&A (9), H&M (9) and Adidas (7.75) followed next in the yellow zone, while Nike (6.75), M&S (5.5), VF Corporation (3.25), and Kering (3) were in the orange zone. Another 29 companies found themselves in the red zone and appeared to do virtually nothing on cotton sustainability.

The report remarked, "While there are multiple companies that work hard to set the right example, there is significant room and need for improvement in company sourcing and reporting on sustainable cotton, as well as an opportunity to drive market transformation. This research highlights positive developments and outcomes in regards to these companies' achievements in sustainable cotton. This research clearly demonstrates the widespread absence of publicly available information, concerning the topics addressed for the research conducted for this report. While major brands and manufacturers have published various policies regarding commitments to using more sustainable cotton, traceability throughout the entire supply chain of cotton is necessary to further report on the uptake and implementation of these policies."