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February 28, 2019

Transparency demands sees sustainable cotton gain ground

By Hannah Abdulla

Demand for greater transparency from apparel companies has led to sustainably sourced cotton gaining greater market share, new figures show.

The 2025 Sustainable Cotton Challenge encourages brands and retailers to commit to source 100% of their cotton from the most sustainable sources by the year 2025.

The Challenge was formed in 2017 when His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales convened a group of CEOs through the work of his International Sustainability Unit that existed to address critical challenges facing the world. Those original 13 CEOs committed to work together to accelerate the use of sustainable cotton, which paved the way for other industry leaders to follow – resulting in 39 companies now committed to sourcing 100% sustainable cotton by 2025.

At the time of its inception, the 2025 Sustainable Cotton Challenge was known as the ‘Sustainable Cotton Communiqué’ and its purpose was, and still is, to increase the uptake of organic and preferred cotton, therefore increasing the income of smallholder farmers, eliminating highly hazardous pesticides, eliminating or reducing the amount of pesticides and synthetic fertilizer used, reducing water use and improving water quality and soil health, which includes positive carbon impacts as a result of more sustainable practices.

Brands and retailers joining the challenge and committing to source more sustainable cotton, can choose from sources that are included on Textile Exchange’s list of recognised organic and sustainable cotton initiatives. These initiatives include ABRAPA, BASF e3, Better Cotton Initiative (BCI), Cleaner Cotton, Cotton made in Africa (CmiA), Fairtrade, Fairtrade Organic, Field to Market, ISCC, myBMP, organic, certified recycled cotton, REEL Cotton, Regenerative Cotton and Transitional Cotton.

Now, Textile Exchange’s first annual 2025 Sustainable Cotton Challenge report provides information and statistics on the achievements and impacts these programmes are having on water, communities, soil quality, biodiversity and social considerations and regulations.

“By committing to use cotton from these initiatives and standards, the brands are ensuring that the intentions of their sustainable sourcing strategies are maintained and the integrity of their commitments are uncompromised,” the non-profit said.

Of the 39 2025 Sustainable Cotton Challenge signatories, 30 participated in the 2018 Preferred Fiber and Materials Benchmark program to report on their progress towards their goal of 100% cotton being sourced from the approved initiatives by 2025. Of these:

  • 10% have achieved their 2025 target of 100% preferred cotton usage, all of which are organic.
  • 37% have achieved a preferred cotton share of between 75-99%.
  • 23% have achieved a preferred cotton share of between 50-74%.
  • 7% have achieved a preferred cotton share of between 25-49%.
  • 17% have achieved a preferred cotton share of less than 24%.
  • 6% of cotton is not tracked yet.
  • From the niche to a market share of 19%, preferred cotton is gaining ground. 

“The tide is turning on traditional supply chains, with demands for greater transparency generating a change from transactional relationships to transformational partnerships,” said Alison Ward, CEO for CottonConnect.

“In order for sustainable cotton to become standard business practice, the amount of sustainable cotton grown and bought must increase significantly. The 2025 Sustainable Cotton Challenge pledge sends a signal to millions of producers that there is a real demand for a more sustainable approach to cotton production that reduces the environmental and social costs.”

Liza Schillo, manager of global product sustainability at Levi Strauss & Co. added:  “Greater transparency across the supply chain and stronger, more strategic relationships between supply chain partners will be critical to the much needed widespread adoption of sustainable farming practices around the world.”

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