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New Guide Aims to “Radically Increase” Sourcing of Sustainable Cotton

The Cotton 2040 initiative has launched an online guide to help brands and retailers “radically increase” their sourcing of sustainable cotton.

Cotton accounts for 30 percent of all fibers used by the textiles industry, yet only 3 percent hails from environmentally and socially beneficial sources, according to Forum for the Future, the British nonprofit that convened Cotton 2040 with the C&A FoundationTarget, the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI), Cotton made in Africa (CmiA) and the Centre for Sustainable Fashion at the London College of Fashion, among others. 

“Cotton production can present significant environmental and social challenges that undermine the sustainability of the apparel sector as a whole,” Forum for the Future said. “These include water quantity and quality issues, inappropriate and excessive use of pesticides and fertilizers, low incomes of smallholder farmers, forced or child labor and soil depletion.”

The CottonUp guide seeks to change all that. Debuted at the BCI 2018 Global Cotton Conference in Brussels, Belgium, last month, the guide makes a case for ramping up the use of sustainable cotton, not only as a way alleviate poverty and reduce the commodity’s environmental impact but also as a pathway for businesses to increase their transparency, secure the long-term security of their fiber source and minimize reputational risk.

Besides providing suggestions on how to develop and implement sourcing strategies across multiple sustainable cotton standards (organic, Fairtrade, Better Cotton, CmiA), CottonUp also includes case studies from retailers such as Asos, C&A and Marks & Spencer that have already incorporated these options into their supply chains. At the same time, it offers practical directions for navigating challenges, including how to talk to, work with and follow up with suppliers.

Cotton 2040 wants to see a significant increase in the adoption of sustainable cotton across the globe, and it says it hopes the guide will spur companies to action. 

“Together with the partners in the Cotton 2040 coalition, we are calling on brands and retailers to radically increase their sourcing of sustainable cotton and have launched a digital guide to support them with fast-tracking their sourcing strategies,” Forum for the Future said. “This is the first essential step towards reducing the apparel sector’s negative impacts and ensuring future supply.”

The CottonUp guide is available at