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Sustainable Commodities See Record Growth in Global Market

Sustainability standards have grown considerably in recent years and, in turn, production of sustainable commodities like organic cotton has seen record growth in terms of market share.

In a recently released report titled, “The State of Sustainability Initiatives (SSI) Review 2014: Standards and the Green Economy,” put out by a collection of environmentally-minded organizations, researchers noted a 41 percent average annual growth rate for commodities produced in compliance with a voluntary sustainability standard. This far outpaces the 2 percent average annual growth rate of corresponding conventional commodity markets.

“The recent growth in the number and use of voluntary sustainability standards can largely be traced to a growing recognition of the failure of public action in addressing a host of sustainability issues.” Organizations and brands have therefore taken on the responsibility of creating more sustainable supply, and SSI attributes much of the change in market share to an increase in sustainable sourcing commitments made by manufacturers.

The report looked at sixteen of the most important standards initiatives across ten commodity sectors including the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI), Fairtrade and the Rainforest Alliance to determine market trends.

According to the report, standard-compliant production is growing rapidly across all sectors and sustainable standards have forcefully penetrated mainstream markets.

In 2012, sustainable cotton production was up 55 percent. Manufacturers produced 933,000 metric tons of the sustainable fiber that year, 3.4% of global production compared to 0.7% in 2008. Sustainable cotton sales reached 1.6% of total global production compared to just 0.4% in 2008.

Brazil, Pakistan and India produce nearly three-quarters of the world’s sustainable cotton. In 2012, the top five countries producing standard-compliant cotton were: Brazil, which produced 30 percent of it, Pakistan with 22 percent, India 21 percent, Zambia 8 percent and 5 percent came from Côte d’Ivoire.

The SSI Review concluded that the opportunities now exist for voluntary sustainability standards to make sweeping changes across mainstream markets and to continue to grow; however, the report said, “taking full advantage of them will require a better understanding of field-level impacts, as well as a host of strategic policy measures to ensure that such standards effectively serve public sustainable development objectives.”