Cotton is one of the most widely produced textiles, but its impacts on the planet are not widely known. Cotton production can be made more sustainable and a new report explores what key market players are doing about it.
The third edition of the Sustainable Cotton Ranking 2020 report assessed the cotton sourcing policies of the 77 largest companies that use more than 10,000 metric tons of cotton lint annually. The analysis included clothing brands, supermarket chains and department stores, most of Europe and North America.
Scores were assigned into three categories: policy, acceptance, and traceability. Companies were accessed based solely on publicly available information to underscore the importance of transparency, excluding “commercially sensitive” information. The full methodology and questionnaire are provided on the report website.
The publication is part of an emerging niche sustainability reporting movement, focusing on particular topics, materials, or issues, such as recent reports on progress on sustainable energy and water policies among global corporations. The report was written by a consortium of partners, including the World Wildlife Fund, the Pesticide Action Network, and Solidarity.
The companies' ranking is based on their progress compared to previous years. According to the authors, twice as many companies have engaged in best practices compared to just two years ago when the first edition was published. In those two years, the sustainable cotton supply has increased from 21% to 25%, which is a significant improvement for an industry of this size.
Yet despite ongoing sustainability efforts within the textile and fashion industries, only 11 companies have shown true leadership, with Adidas, Ikea and H&M topping the list. Previously accused of greenwashing, H&M is particularly striving to position itself as a forerunner of sustainability, having committed to 100% sustainable sourcing by 2020.
In a featured case study, Harsha Vardhan, global environment manager for H & MGroup, comments on the importance of this goal: “We see that an external goal is an important driver. When you don't publicly disclose that goal, it's almost as if you don't have a goal. "
Meanwhile, some companies like Marks & Spencer have already achieved their 100% sustainable sourcing commitments, using Better Cotton, Fairtrade Cotton, Organic Cotton, and recycled cotton to ensure compliance.
Phil Townsend, Technical Director of Environmental Sustainability at Marks & Spencer, emphasizes the importance of balancing the portfolio of sustainable certification options while ensuring that the company remains financially sustainable. "You need to take these costs into account when you start your sustainable cotton journey," he says.
Overall, more than half of the companies evaluated have improved their rankings compared to previous years, with Bestseller A / S, Decathlon Group and AdidasAG making the most progress since 2017. Brief summaries of each company's achievements and progress can be viewed. in your performance analysis pages
Despite those achievements, however, the report's authors highlight real change driven by small but dedicated groups of companies that care deeply about their reputations. Both awareness and willingness to change remain low, and greater momentum is required from governments, consumers and others.