Textile Exchange, which has published reports for both its Sustainable Cotton Challenge and Recycled Polyester Challenge, explains it has successfully encouraged apparel brands to use lower impact sourcing to replace conventional counterparts, rather than substitute other fibre categories or justify increased industry growth.

However, the organisation is urging more apparel brands to take part in the initiatives in order to help the wider apparel industry tackle the ambitious targets required by 2030.

Lower impact sourcing for cotton and polyester

The non-profit organisation, which focuses on driving positive impact on climate change across the global apparel industry, believes lower impact sourcing needs to be combined with:

  • Innovation-based investments
  • Reduced material consumption overall
  • The scaling of existing solutions
  • A focus on degrowth
  • Improving the data used to measure impacts

.This it says will help the industry meet its climate goals in time for 2030, which is when greenhouse gas emissions need to be halved to make a real difference to climate change.

The reports detail the progress that has already been made by the apparel brand signatories so far.

Sustainable Cotton Challenge 2025

The 2025 Sustainable Cotton Challenge requires apparel brands to sign a pledge which means being committed to sourcing 100% of their cotton from one or more of the recognised programmes and initiatives by 2025.

The long list of brands who have already committed to the challenge include household names such as adidas, Nike, H&M Group, C&A, Gap, Marks & Spencer, Ted Baker and ASOS.

In fact, by 2020, 127 brands had signed up to the pledge and by December 2021 this figure had increased to 162.

A quarter of the brands (25%) successfully sourced all of of their cotton (100%) from one or more of the recognised programmes and initiatives by 2020 with almost three quarters (72%) of the total amount of cotton sourced by all the signatories together coming from recognised programmes and initiatives in 2020.

Textile Exchange says this significantly outperforms the 30% sourced from these programmes by the industry overall in 2020. However, the market share of the reporting signatory brands and retailers was only roughly 7% of the total cotton market that year.

The third annual Sustainable Cotton Challenge 2025 report, which was published this month (July 2022) focuses on the progress made by the original 127 brands who made the pledge in 2020.

Rui Fontoura, the fibre and materials strategy lead for cotton and crops at Textile Exchange explains: “The challenge inspires retailers and brands to champion the greater use of sustainable cotton by aiming for 100% of the cotton in their supply chains to come from the most sustainable sources by 2025 – in just three years.”

He says the report outlines how brands and supply chain actors are increasingly adopting sustainable cotton production practices, which has a direct impact on social quality, biodiversity, water quality and availability. He points out these issues are all components of Textile Exchange’s Climate+ strategy, which calls for the textile industry to achieve a 45% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions within fibre and raw material – cotton – by 2030.

Fontoura is also keen to encourage more brands and supply chain actors involved in the cotton production to join the 2025 Sustainable Cotton Challenge.

Textile Exchange’s vision for cotton

The goal is to develop and support thriving rural communities where soils will be healthy, biodiversity flourishing, and people have both food security and economic stability. Responsibly grown cotton using regenerative practices will be central to delivering on this vision.

The aim for 2025 is for over half of cotton volume to be converted to more sustainable solutions. The rest of the industry should also understand the issues and solutions and be following the lead.

The vision for 2030 is for the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals Textile Sector Report to communicate significant impacts around water use and quality, biodiversity, food security and to have case studies supporting the journey to regenerative agriculture and resilient communities.

Recycled Polyester Challenge 2025

A total of 132 companies signed up to the 2025 Recycled Polyester challenge between its launch in April 2021 and December 2021. By signing the pledge, they committed to targets ranging from having 45% to 100% recycled polyester by 2025.

Companies committed to the initiative are required to annually report their polyester consumption to Textile Exchange’s Corporate Fiber and Materials Benchmark (CFMB) survey, which tracks progress across all participating brands towards the collective goal. 

The first annual report, which was published this month (July 2022) explains that in 2019, the baseline year for the 2025 Recycled Polyester Challenge, the apparel industry accounted for 32m tonnes of the 58 million tonnes of polyester fibre used that year. Only approximately 14% of this was recycled, despite having a significantly lower carbon footprint than its conventional counterpart.

To keep the industry on track toward its climate targets, Textile Exchange says this percentage needs to increase to 45% by 2025, assuming a 3% growth rate in the apparel industry. The long-term vision is to bring this up to 90% by 2030.

The organisation also notes that its goal for recycled polyester is that it should replace virgin synthetic feedstocks, rather than substitute other fibre categories or justify increased industry growth.

The key takeaways from the initial report include:

  • Over half (56%) of the 132 companies (including subsidiaries) have committed to replacing 100% of their virgin fossil-based polyester with recycled by 2025.
  • Almost a fifth (17%) already use more than 45% recycled polyester and 7% achieved their target in 2020
  • Almost a third (31%) reduced their total polyester fibre volume from 2019 to 2020.
  • Almost half (49%) were able to report their total polyester volumes not only for 2020 but also for 2019.

Textile Exchange’s vision for polyester

While the industry may celebrate the progress made, Textile Exchange says further acceleration is urgently needed:

  • More companies need to join the 2025 Recycled Polyester Challenge and commit to increasingly ambitious targets for the industry to achieve an overall reduction of 45%.
  • All companies have to set ambitious targets.
  • Overall material consumption, particularly but not only fossil-based, needs to be reduced.