IKEA sets sights on making sustainable cotton affordable for all

IKEA is aiming to secure 100% cotton from more sustainable sources by the end of 2015 as it looks to broaden its impact and make sustainable cotton a mainstream commodity.

The IKEA supply chain has been supplying increasing amounts of sustainable cotton for IKEA products year-on-year since 2009 – back in February edie reported that the retail giant has increased the use of sustainably sourced cotton in its products to 72%, up from 34% in 2012.

According to a Better Cotton progress report (scroll down to read/download it in full), almost 57,000 tonnes of licensed Better Cotton lint had been purchased as of March 2014. An additional 17,000 tonnes of lint was sourced from farmers working towards the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) standard, bringing the total to almost 50% of the estimated need for 2013.

IKEA’s partnership with WWF has been pivotal in promoting Better Cotton, and the two organisations are now planning to scale up sustainable cotton production to make Better Cotton a mainstream, affordable commodity. All IKEA-funded projects are now being adapted to be licensed to grow Better Cotton.

“We’ve made a big impact on the field through the WWF and IKEA projects, both on the health of the people and on the environment. We are ensuring sustainability by building the capacity of our local partners and the farmers themselves,” said Mizuki Murai, cotton project coordinator at WWF-UK.

The joint IKEA-WWF project in Pakistan is now helping to establish and support producer organisations – with and for farmers – that in turn provide support to those who want to produce Better Cotton.

The partnership is also working to understand the water footprint and greenhouse gas emissions of cotton production in India and Pakistan, and to develop a plan of action to address these issues.

However certain social issues are proving difficult. Farmers wanting to produce Better Cotton must show continuous improvements in areas such as child labour, health and safety, and employment conditions.

WWF estimates that production of Better Cotton could be large enough to make it a mainstream global commodity before 2020. The BCI initiative is striving towards it accounting for 30% of global cotton production during this timeframe.

Singh believes that to make Better Cotton a tradable commodity it is important that significant quantities of it are produced in China, the biggest producer and consumer of cotton. Also USA, the biggest exporter country of cotton, need to produce large quantities. But he cautions against premium pricing as if it became more expensive than conventional cotton, it would turn into a niche product.

“Differentiated prices for Better Cotton have been developed in many countries due to the gap between demand and supply. It is in these moments that retail and brand members of BCI need to stand firm. The way forward is to increase the supply evenly over more markets around the world,” he suggested.

Hammad Naqi Khan, global cotton leader at WWF International’s Market Transformation Initiative agreed. “Retailers have to stick to not allowing a premium, and pay only for real production costs. But it is an open market commodity, subject to supply and demand mechanisms. And when demand rises, some people do see an opportunity to make money.”

WWF/IKEA Sustainable Cotton Initiative 2014

Maxine Perella

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie