Collaborating on cotton – united approach aims to remove barriers to sourcing sustainably

June 13, 2017

Awareness is growing around the environmental and social benefits of sustainable cotton. Now a global coalition called Cotton 2040 is convening industry stakeholders to align efforts and take a more united approach to drive sustainable cotton into the mainstream, as Charlene Collison reports.

Imagine you are the head of procurement for a well-known apparel brand or retailer. Cotton is a vital commodity for your business, yet you are increasingly concerned about the negative social and environmental impacts of its production. Not only that, but conscientious groups are calling for greater transparency surrounding your supply chain, which has implications for the future of the business. Embedding a sustainable sourcing strategy to mitigate these risks and ensure a secure supply is fast becoming a priority.

You do some research into how to clean up your company’s act, but are at once confronted with a baffling array of choices, each with varying pricing models and levels of traceability, and focusing on different impacts and benefits. It can take a significant investment in time and resources to research the options and make the best choice to meet your organisation’s sustainability priorities. And besides, cotton is just one – albeit, very important – commodity in your portfolio of fibres and materials.

What do you do? You could follow in the footsteps of a small number of companies who have pushed ambitiously ahead to navigate the often complex challenges of sourcing cotton from a range of sustainable sources, such as organic, Fairtrade or the Better Cotton Initiative. Or you could, like so many other companies before you, carry on as normal.

This is a dilemma all too familiar for brands and retailers looking to take action on sustainable sourcing of cotton, and is one of a handful of major barriers that Cotton 2040 – a global coalition of leading businesses, standards and NGOs – is looking to overcome.

Need for action

Enter Cotton 2040

Cotton 2040 aims to eliminate or reduce key barriers, and to create a space in which different players can come together to work out how to move the industry forward, so that more sustainable cotton becomes a mainstream commodity.

The coalition is convened by sustainability non-profit Forum for the Future, with support from C&A Foundation. It includes leading retailers M&S and Target; industry standards Better Cotton Initiative and Cotton Made in Africa (CMiA), organic standards (represented by Textile Exchange), the Fairtrade Foundation, industry initiatives Cotton Connect, IDH, Cotton Australia, Value Added in Africa and Organic Cotton Accelerator, as well as Centre for Sustainable Fashion at London College of Fashion, UAL.

Through research and close consultation with cotton stakeholders across the industry over 2015-2016, the following priority areas for action were identified:

  1. Building demand for more sustainable cotton: supporting brands and retailers within the fashion and apparel industry to increase their uptake across different sustainability standards
  2. Closing the loop on cotton: scaling up cotton recycling and circularity
  3. Traceability: building greater visibility and transparency throughout the cotton value chain and across standards
  4. Upskilling for resilience: creating a cross-industry forum to build resilience among smallholder cotton farmers in a climate-changing world.

Over the next two to three years, working groups will be developing best practice in workstreams across these areas, to share with the wider industry. The first, ‘Building demand for sustainable cotton’, was launched in November 2016 with the aim of increasing uptake of sustainable cotton from the industry to drive production from 13% today to beyond 30% from 2020.

Building the coalition

The coalition is now looking for additional partners with the drive to take action in one or more of these four areas together. In particular, it is inviting organisations to get involved in the ‘Building Demand’ workstream and benefit from testing and piloting the sustainable cotton sourcing framework internally.

This framework will be a set of guidelines, training and informational tools, and a business case for sustainable cotton sourcing. It is intended for procurement teams, designers and other internal groups, to help them navigate the choices and form an informed strategy for sustainable cotton sourcing.


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. To find out more or be part of Cotton 2040, contact Charlene Collison at