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How to Close the Sustainability Reporting Gap With Data

As apparel brands come under greater scrutiny regarding their impact on the environment, many have set measurable goals, like cutting water and energy use by 2025–a date that’s rapidly approaching. However, without verified data that tracks their progress toward these goals, brands leave themselves open to accusations of greenwashing.

Increasingly, brands and retailers must provide metrics to prove their sustainability, but they often lack the necessary tools to do so. This “reporting gap” threatens to undermine claims of sustainable material sourcing. Brands and retailers need to do more than just promise sustainability. The U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol was designed to address this need for verified sustainability metrics.

U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol provides needed metrics

Through quantifiable and verifiable goals and measurement, the Trust Protocol will deliver the sustainability credentials brands and retailers need to validate their own sustainability benchmarks.

“The Trust Protocol was created to meet the sustainability challenges of brands and retailers in the 21st century,” said Ken Burton, executive director of the U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol. “They need sustainability metrics that are measured through sophisticated data collection and verified by an independent third party.”

The Trust Protocol process starts with the data collection brands and retailers increasingly need. Participating growers fill out an extensive questionnaire, comprised of more than 100 questions across nine sustainability categories. Growers will also have to access the Fieldprint calculator, provided by Field to Market: The Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture, which will provide in-depth sustainability analytics about their fields.

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The data collected is designed to give brands and retailers the data points they need to demonstrate their sustainability progress. By providing quantified and verified data, the Trust Protocol will help brands and retailers reduce their reputational and social risk.

“The Trust Protocol plans to collect the data brands and retailers can’t,” Burton said. “By aggregating data from all participating growers, the Trust Protocol will serve as the data clearinghouse for brand and retailers as well as growers.”

Brands that become members of the Trust Protocol will have access to aggregate year-over-year data on water use, greenhouse gas emissions, energy use, soil carbon and land use efficiency.

“At Levi Strauss & Co., the quality and sustainability of the cotton we use is critical to our business and important to our customers. We are deeply committed to sourcing sustainable cotton and reducing water usage, carbon emissions, and chemical usage,” said Liza Schillo, senior manager of global sustainability integration at Levi Strauss & Co., and a board member of the U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol. “We are therefore in strong support of the introduction of standards–including the U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol–that champion sustainably grown cotton and drive wider adoption over the long-term of sustainable cultivation practices.”

Data helps all growers be more sustainable

In addition to providing the data brands and retailers need for their own sustainability reporting, the questionnaire and the FieldPrint calculator give growers the information they need to drive continuous improvement in responsibly grown cotton. Growers will have access to aggregate data, allowing them to implement insights and best practices across the industry.

This data will help measure the sustainability progress of the U.S. cotton industry. Over the past 35 years, U.S. cotton has seen significant reductions in land, water and energy usage, soil loss, and greenhouse gas emissions. Focusing on continuing improvement and innovation, the Trust Protocol has set ambitious goals of further reductions in these key metrics by 2025. The continued improvement in sustainability of U.S. cotton will make it easier for brands and retailers to find the quantities of responsibly grown cotton they need.

The proof is in independent verification

The data collected by the Trust Protocol is not only measured but also verified by Control Union Certifications (CUC), a third-party source. This verification will give additional assurances to brands and retailers that the metrics they receive are accurate. CUC has certified more than 150 programs worldwide, including working as a key partner in the early development and piloting phases of Field to Market’s Impact Claim Verification Protocol. CUC has also worked with the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) on its third-party verification programs in multiple countries.

Trust Protocol cotton has also been added to Textile Exchange’s list of preferred fibers and materials, joining cotton from Better Cotton Initiative (BCI), Cotton Made in Africa (CmiA), Fairtrade Cotton, Organic Cotton and Recycled Cotton as a preferred cotton fiber. Textile Exchange is a global nonprofit that creates leaders in the sustainable fiber and materials industry.

The Trust Protocol aims to build on U.S. cotton’s 35-year history of sustainability improvements, while providing brands and retailers the critical assurances, backed up by quantifiable and verified measurements, that they are sourcing responsibly grown cotton.

Click here to learn more about the U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol.