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60% Cite Sustainability as a Top-Two Priority, Cotton Trust Survey Shows

New research from the U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol and the Economist Intelligence Unit shows the extent of the global fashion industry’s commitment to sustainability, despite the Covid-19 pandemic, with sustainability ranking as the second-most important strategic objective for businesses in the sector.

The new research is based on a survey of 150 leading executives from top fashion, retail and textile businesses across Europe and the U.S. The survey reveals that for many of the world’s biggest brands, sustainability is now business critical, with 60 percent of the fashion, retail and textile leaders surveyed citing implementing sustainability measures as a top two strategic objective for their business, second only to improving customers’ experience, ranked first by 64 percent.

In contrast, only 15 percent listed “rewarding shareholders” as a top objective.

The executives reported that they’re introducing sustainability measures throughout the supply chain, from sourcing sustainably produced raw materials to introducing a circular economy approach to their business and cutting greenhouse gasses and investing in new technologies like 3D printing and blockchain. Overall, 70 percent were optimistic that sustainable, fast and affordable fashion is achievable.

A key takeaway of the research was that data matters for sustainability. When asked what measures they were implementing to be more sustainable, collecting data from across the business and in the supply chain to measure performance was ranked at the top of business leaders’ list of priorities by 53 percent, just behind developing and implementing an environmental sustainability strategy with measurable targets at 58 percent.

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While brands recognized the importance of data, the research’s findings on data collection indicate that top fashion brands, retailers and textile businesses may find sourcing good quality data a challenge. Business leaders reported high rates of data collection on supplier sustainability practices (65 percent), and worker rights and workplace health and safety in the supply chain (62 percent), but 45 percent of businesses do not track greenhouse gas emissions across production, manufacturing and distribution of the products they sell and 41 percent don’t track the amount of water and energy being used to produce the raw materials they source.

“It is clear that brands are faced with a challenge on driving forward their sustainability efforts,” Gary Adams, president of the U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol, said. “At the U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol, we know that accurate, reliable data supports businesses in this work, providing not only the evidence to show hard work and progress, but the insight to drive further improvements. We provide one of the most robust data collection mechanisms available for an essential material–cotton–for unparalleled transparency.”

The U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol is a new initiative that sets a new standard in sustainably grown cotton. By working closely with growers, the U.S. Trust Protocol provides clear, consistent data on six key sustainability metrics, including GHG emissions, water use, soil carbon, soil loss, independently audited through Control Union Certification.

Choosing Trust Protocol cotton will give brands and retailers the critical assurances they need that the cotton fiber element of their supply chain is more sustainably grown with lower environmental and social risk. Brands and retailers will gain access to U.S. cotton with sustainability credentials proven via Field to Market, measured via the Fieldprint Calculator and verified with Control Union Certifications.

The Economist Intelligence Unit is the research and analysis division of the Economist Group, providing forecasting and advisory services through research and analysis.