Cotton 2040: Brands unite to develop the business case for sustainable cotton

Brands and retailers including Marks & Spencer (M&S) and Target have teamed with Forum for the Future to convene a new cross-industry initiative aimed at turning sustainable cotton into a mainstream commodity.

Cotton 2040 was developed by Forum for the Future with support from the C&A Foundation. The Better Cotton Initiative, Cotton Made in Africa (CMiA), the Fairtrade Foundation and Cotton Connect are just some of the industry standards and non-profits involved in the scheme, which will encourage collaborative action to drive uptake in sustainable cotton.

Forum for the Future’s chief executive Sally Uren 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.

“At Forum, 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.”

For the past 48 months, Forum for the Future enlisted cross-industry research consultations to identify key areas where action was needed. Specifically, Cotton 2040 will build demand for sustainable cotton by promoting its use within the fashion and apparel industry.

The initiative will also work with retailers to close the loop on cotton and scale up recycling and circularity in the industry. Issues over the traceability in the cotton value chain and building resilience for smallholder cotton farmers will also be addressed.

Bold move Cotton

Over the next few years, the initiative will work with businesses and organisations to develop best practice through a variety of workstreams. The first of these was launched in November 2016, aiming to increase the uptake of sustainable cotton from 13% to more than 30% from 2020 onwards.

Brands will be invited to provide lessons and insight on how to promote sustainable cotton sourcing, so that others might learn from them. It is hoped that this will help develop a clear business case for the initiative.

Commenting on the initiative, M&S’s sustainable business director Mike Barry said: “We’re supporting Cotton 2040 as we recognise the important role that retailers play in driving demand for sustainable cotton. We have set out to significantly increase the amount of cotton we procure from sustainable sources by 2020 and we want to work collaboratively to affect material, lasting change across the industry.”

Means to achieve these goals are currently in development, but will be piloted by members and shared with the wider industry in October 2017.

An overwhelming majority of global companies using the highest volume of cotton internationally have “failed to deliver” on sourcing sustainably, with industry experts calling on companies “serious about sustainability” to source 100% more sustainable cotton by 2020.

WWF found that pursuing sustainable cotton could help businesses contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and unlock new market opportunities by using credible voluntary sustainability standards.

Matt Mace

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