As brands and retailers have come under greater scrutiny regarding their impact on the environment, many have set measurable goals such as cutting water and energy use by 2025 – a date that is rapidly approaching.

As companies work to meet growing consumer demand for sustainable products, new research from the U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol revealed that 65 per cent of brands and retailers agree that data is important to their future sustainability goals. Increasingly, brands and retailers must provide sustainability metrics to stakeholders, but without verification behind their data, they can leave themselves open to accusations of greenwashing.

This “reporting gap” threatens to undermine the progress they’ve made to source materials sustainably. Brands and retailers need to do more than just promise sustainability. The U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol was designed to help address this need.

U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol Provides Needed Metrics

Through quantifiable and verifiable goals and measurement, the Trust Protocol will deliver the sustainability credentials brands and retailers need to validate their own sustainability benchmarks.

“The Trust Protocol is here to meet the sustainability challenges of 21st century brands and retailers,” said Ken Burton, Manager of Program Implementation at the U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol. “We know they need sustainability metrics that are measured through sophisticated data collection and verified by an independent third-party.”

The process starts with collecting the data brands and retailers increasingly need. Participating growers share their sustainability practices through an extensive questionnaire. Growers will also gain access to the Fieldprint calculator, provided by Field to Market: The Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture, to receive in-depth sustainability analytics about their fields. The aggregate data collected is provided to brands and retailers as proof behind their sustainability metrics.

“US cotton growers are continually making sustainability improvements to their operations. The Trust Protocol is here to demonstrate that through data,” Burton said. “With this aggregate data, brands and retailers sourcing US cotton can confidently tell the sustainability story of their supply chain without fear of hearing the term ‘greenwashing’ thrown at their ambitious environmental commitments.”

Brands and retailers who become members of the Trust Protocol will have access to aggregate year-over-year data on water use, greenhouse gas emissions, energy use, soil carbon and land-use efficiency.

“At Levi Strauss & Co., the quality and sustainability of the cotton we use are critical to our business and important to our customers. We are deeply committed to sourcing sustainable cotton and reducing water usage, carbon emissions, and chemical usage,” said Liza Schillo, Senior Manager, Global Sustainability Integration at Levi Strauss & Co., and a board member of the U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol. “We are therefore in strong support of the introduction of standards – including the U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol – that champion sustainably grown cotton and drive wider adoption over the long-term of sustainable cultivation practices.”

The U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol has gained more than 400 brand, retailer, mill and manufacturer members since it opened enrollment six months ago. This includes Levi Strauss & Co. and its legacy brands, Gap Inc. and its collection of purpose-led lifestyle brands as well as global apparel manufacturer Gildan. The Trust Protocol has also welcomed UK retailers Tesco, Byford and Next Plc. Other Trust Protocol member announcements include the first 10 US mills to join and the first members in Latin America. These members have joined to better understand the sustainability progress of US cotton and communicate that progress to customers.

Data Helps All Growers Be More Sustainable

This data will help measure the sustainability progress of the US cotton industry. Over the past 35 years, US cotton has seen significant reductions in land, water and energy usage, soil loss, and greenhouse gas emissions. Focusing on continuous improvement and innovation, the Trust Protocol has set ambitious goals of further reductions in these key metrics by 2025. The continued improvement in the sustainability of US cotton will make it easier for brands and retailers to find the quantities of responsibly grown cotton they need.