In a bid to enhance uptake of sustainable cotton, a cross-industry initiative is asking brands and retailers to increase sourcing of sustainable cotton. It has also launched a digital guide to support them with fast tracking their sourcing strategies across multiple standards. Cotton production presents significant environmental and social challenges.
Cotton is the most abundantly produced natural fibre and its production supports the livelihoods of over 350 million men and women. However, cotton production can present significant environmental and social challenges that undermine the sustainability of the apparel sector as a whole. Sourcing more sustainable cotton has the potential to lift millions of farmers out of poverty and reduce the commodity’s environment impacts. There are also clear benefits for businesses, such as positioning as responsible brand, increased transparency, long-term security of supply and minimising reputational risk.
And yet, even though according to the 2018 Pulse of the Fashion Industry report 75 per cent of fashion companies have improved their environmental and social performance over the past year, uptake of sustainable cotton from the industry is only around 3 per cent of total global cotton supply, or 21 per cent of sustainably produced cotton.
The CottonUP guide to sourcing sustainable cotton seeks to address one of the main barriers for companies looking to start sourcing or increase the amounts of sustainable cotton they source: the time and resource required to research and implement the most appropriate sourcing approach for their organisation’s sustainability priorities.
Launched at the BCI 2018 Global Cotton Conference, the guide highlights the business case and main sourcing options for sustainable cotton, provides guidance on creating a sourcing strategy and working with suppliers, and shares case studies from companies that have already navigated the complex challenges of sourcing more sustainable cotton.
Sally Uren, CEO at Forum for the Future, said: “The apparel sector is under huge pressure to reduce its social and environmental impacts, and increasing demand for more sustainable fibres is the key to securing future supply. The CottonUP guide addresses a long-standing need in the industry for clarity around cotton sourcing options by providing brands and retailers with the resources to help them go further, faster. It can be a key enabler for systemic change in the industry, and could be a blueprint for other commodities in the future.”
The guide was developed by the Cotton 2040 coalition of leading brands and retailers including M&S, Target and Aditya Birla Fashion Retail, industry standards Better Cotton Initiative and Cotton Made in Africa (CMiA), organic standards (represented by Textile Exchange), Fairtrade, industry initiatives CottonConnect, IDH – the sustainable trade initiative, Cotton Australia, Proudly made in Africa and Organic Cotton Accelerator as well as MADE-BY and Centre for Sustainable Fashion at London College of Fashion. Sustainability non-profit Forum for the Future led the work, with funding from the C&A Foundation.
Anita Chester, head of Sustainable Raw Materials at C&A Foundation, said: “There is significant work to do to align and harmonise the many sustainability-focused activities across the apparel sector, and to drive production of more sustainable cotton from around 15 per cent to beyond 30 per cent from 2020. Through Cotton 2040 and the CottonUP guide, key industry players are making a united effort to pull brands and retailers towards more sustainable cotton and make it easier for them to source across multiple standards.”
Over the coming months, Cotton 2040 partners will be reaching out to individual organisations and the wider industry to encourage greater use of more sustainable cotton and provide support through webinars and other knowledge sharing opportunities.
Phil Townsend, sustainable raw materials specialist at M&S, said: “Today, any company, no matter how large or small, has the opportunity to convert all its products over to a sustainable footing and mainstream more sustainable cotton. The supply and marketing opportunities are both there, and the CottonUP guide will make it a lot easier and quicker for brands and retailers to radically increase the amount of sustainable cotton they source than it was for M&S ten years ago.” (SV)
Fibre2Fashion News Desk – India