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Target Sets Goal of 100 Percent Sustainable Cotton by 2022

Target Corp. is setting a goal to source 100 percent sustainable cotton by 2022 for its owned and exclusive national brands in apparel, home and essentials, and the retailer is introducing a new policy to help guide the way.

With Target one of the largest cotton importers in the U.S., the company hopes to make a significant impact on cotton imports with this commitment by helping to ensure its global supply chain sources responsibly by upholding worker safety and promoting responsible resource use.

To achieve this goal, Target said it wants to have full transparency and visibility of where cotton is grown for Target’s owned brand products, to continually improve the value chain through collaboration with farmers, brands and retailers, and to leverage leading standards and certifying bodies to track and validate progress and report regularly.

Target noted that it’s been nearly a year since it announced commitments around responsible sourcing and sustainable products, and since then the company has shared a closer look at its goals and progress in several areas, including forest products, chemicals, packaging and eliminating forced labor.

Cotton is a “big deal” for its business since it’s used in so many products, Target said, and while cotton farming plays a major role in the economic well-being of communities around the world, the supply chain is complex.

Target hopes to use its size, scale and influence to help the cotton industry tackle some major environmental and social challenges, while growing its investment in transparent and traceable sources.

A key challenge, Target noted, is that there’s no industrywide standard definition for “sustainable cotton.” So, the company has formed a definition around a few important pillars.

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“To us, sustainable production uses water and chemicals as efficiently as possible, with methods that support soil health and promotes ethical working conditions,” the company said.

[Read more about sustainable cotton: Sustainable Cotton Ranking Report Calls Out Companies for Cotton Sourcing Commitments]

Lalit Toshniwal, a principal fabric engineer on Target’s product design team, and his colleagues have been travelling around the world to visit cotton farmers and develop this goal for Target’s sourcing team.

“We visited farms in India and Africa for a closer look at the different methods they use,” Toshniwal said. “There’s a very wide range, from small farms growing cotton in co-ops to larger farms that use more commercial practices. We also toured farms in the U.S., which tend to be much larger and have some of the most remarkable modernized equipment and practices.’

He said it was “eye-opening to see how access to data and technology, and support from government and local organizations to use sustainable practices contributes to much better farming conditions all around.”

“But that’s far from the norm, so we’re putting our new goal in place to help address some of the biggest obstacles,” Toshniwal said.

Toshniwal said based on what they learned, the team zeroed in on four major issues the company wants to help farmers address–that they are using water as efficiently as possible, especially important in areas where clean water is scarce; using chemicals and other inputs as efficiently as possible; improving soil health on the land where they farm, and promoting ethical working conditions–making sure no forced labor is used during the process.

“We think Target’s efforts will help improve the industry in three big ways,” Toshniwal said. “First, we’ll work with vendors to map our supply chains and make them more transparent to understand where and how cotton is grown. Second, we’ll rely on programs such as Better Cotton Initiative, Organic and Cotton Leads, which we feel can best help us address the challenges that fall under our definition of sustainable cotton production. And third, we’ll push ourselves and industry partners to keep improving and supporting technological developments within cotton farming.”

He said one example is Target’s recent partnership with the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space and the International Space Station to catalyze technological advancements in cotton farming.

“We know that Target’s decisions have the potential to impact millions of people around the globe, from the people who create our products to the families they support and the communities where they live, while also improving the planet,” Toshniwal added. “And our cotton goal will support our work to ensure the products we deliver to Target guests are made ethically and responsibly.”