Cotton 2040: Global coalition launches sustainable cotton initiative

A global coalition of international retailers, producers, industry initiatives and cotton standards from every stage of the cotton supply chain has been created to overcome the barriers to the uptake of sustainable cotton as a mainstream commodity.

Cotton 2040: Global coalition launches sustainable cotton initiative
The Cotton 2040 initiative, led by sustainable development charity Forum for the Future with support from the C&A Foundation, a global foundation addressing systemic challenges in the apparel industry that is also supporting the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s new circular textiles programme, has brought together a range of stakeholders from the cotton industry including retailers M&S and Target, industry standard Cotton Made in Africa (CMiA), the Fairtrade Foundation, and the London College of Fashion.

The case for action is clear, with cotton leaving a heavy environmental footprint (it can take 20,000 litres of water to produce one kilogramme of cotton) while also supporting the livelihoods of millions around the world, with 60 per cent of the world’s cotton produced by smallholder farmers, 90 per cent of which live in developing countries.

Ensuring the sustainability of the global production of cotton, only four per cent of which can currently be classified as sustainable, is crucial in maintaining the livelihoods of smallholder farmers and reducing the environmental impact of the cotton supply chain.

Using a futures-based approach analysing different scenarios for where the cotton industry will be in 2040, this troupe of stakeholders have been tasked with finding solutions to the impending problems facing the cotton industry brought on by population growth, resource scarcity, climate change and increased demands for transparency.

Four principle areas for action have been identified following research and consultation across 2015/2016. These are:

  • Building demand for sustainable cotton through the creation of a sustainable fibre strategy framework, direct CEO and senior management engagement, and defining the value of using sustainable cotton;
  • Closing the loop on cotton through embedding basic cotton fibre recycling behaviours within retailers and the wider public, investing in cotton recycling technologies, and disseminating information on the recycling options open to retailers;
  • Embedding traceability into the cotton supply chain so that retailers can identify issues in the supply chain and communicate success stories, increasing consumer confidence; and
  • Upskilling for resilience in the supply chain to shock and potential adverse impacts of climate change through providing farmers with the resources to deal with present and future challenges, and to grow cotton sustainably and profitably, for their own benefit and for the wider aim of sustainability in the cotton industry.

Among the resources being developed and tested by coalition members, before being shared with the wider industry in October 2017, are guides, business case and support tools for sourcing sustainable cotton.

Cotton 2040: Global coalition launches sustainable cotton initiative
Those behind Cotton 2040 are now looking for additional investors and funding to take action to the next level across all four working streams.

Speaking about the next step in the pursuit of a sustainable cotton value chain, Sally Uren, CEO of Forum for the Future, said: “Past debate around sustainable cotton standards and industry initiatives has at times been polarising, but we know to make effective progress we need to work together.

“We believe that collaborative action is essential in order to address complex issues that no one entity – whether a business, standard, consumer group, NGO or government – can tackle alone. We’re delighted that leaders across the global cotton industry are ready and willing to come together and are excited to help steer them forward through this unique and growing partnership.”

Leslie Johnston, Executive Director of the C&A Foundation, added: “Cotton 2040 is not a new platform, but a smart way to accelerate the many good initiatives out there working to mainstream more sustainable cotton. Together, we can be more than the sum of our parts and jointly tackle the effects of one of the world’s thirstiest crops.”

Read the Cotton 2040 proposals for cross-industry workstreams to mainstream sustainable cotton for further details and find out more in the Cotton 2040 Case for Action.

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