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CottonUP guide: A collective industry initiative towards cotton’s growing challenges

by Apparel Resources

24-July-2018  |  6 mins read

Image Courtesy: wallpapercave.com

Across the textile and apparel supply chain, efforts for being sustainable are on the rise. According to the 2018 Pulse of the Fashion Industry Report, 75 per cent of companies in fashion world have improved their environmental and social performance over the past year. But, at the level of cotton production and monitoring, efforts needed to be put in are much less and require more thrust, as uptake of sustainable cotton from the industry is only around 3 per cent of the total global cotton supply or 21 per cent of sustainably produced cotton.

Recently, during the BCI 2018 Global Cotton Conference, Brussels, the global coalition called upon the apparel industry to increase sustainable cotton sourcing and CottonUP guide, a new guide was launched by Cotton 2040 (a cross-industry initiative, convened by the Forum for the Future with support from the C&A Foundation) to help brands and retailers fast-track sourcing across multiple standards.

Soon, Cotton 2040 partners will reach 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.

Thrust on cotton is the need of the hour as cotton is not only the most abundantly produced natural fibre, but its production also supports the livelihood of over 350 million people across the globe.

Cotton production can present significant environmental and social challenges, which have the potential to undermine the sustainability of the apparel sector as a whole. Sourcing more sustainable cotton can lift millions of farmers out of poverty and reduce the commodity’s environmental impacts; apart from positioning a brand responsibly with increased transparency, ensuring long-term security of supply, and minimising its reputational risk.

Looking at all these aspects, the CottonUP guide for sourcing sustainable cotton seeks to address one of the main barriers that companies face while wanting to start sourcing and aims to help those who wish to increase the amount of sustainable cotton they source.

This guide saves significantly the time and resources required to research and implement the most appropriate sourcing approach for any organisation’s sustainability priorities. Its benefits are further extended towards providing primary sourcing options for sustainable cotton, assisting in creating a sourcing strategy and working with suppliers, and sharing case studies of companies that have already navigated the complex challenges of sourcing more sustainable cotton.

The coalition behind this guide’s formation include names like Target, M&S, and Aditya Birla Fashion Retail Ltd., BCI and Cotton Made in Africa (CMiA), organic standards (represented by Textile Exchange), the Fairtrade Foundation, industry initiatives CottonConnect, IDH – the sustainable trade initiative, Cotton Australia, Value Added in Africa and Organic Cotton Accelerator as well as MADE-BY, and Centre for Sustainable Fashion at London College of Fashion. With funding support being given by the C&A Foundation, the Sustainability non-profit Forum for the Future led to this key development.

“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,” said Sally Uren, CEO, Forum for the Future.

CottonUP is a practical resource to inform and guide business leaders and sourcing teams on the issues, benefits, and options for sourcing more sustainable cotton. The guide is part of Cotton 2040, a multi-stakeholder initiative to significantly increase the use of sustainable cotton internationally. Industry experts feel that 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 are making it easier for them to source across multiple standards. Anita Chester, Head of Sustainable Raw Materials, C&A Foundation said, “There is significant work to do to align and harmonise the many sustainability-focussed 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.”

Phil Townsend, Sustainable Raw Materials Specialist, M&S also echoes the same opinion and insists, “Today, any company, no matter how large or small, has the opportunity to convert all its products over to a sustainable footing and mainstream for 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.”