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Sustainability Is Key to Bringing Customers Back into Stores After Covid-19

Every week there are new reports of clothing brands struggling due to Covid-19’s impact on the economy. With consumers tightening their spending, many beloved brands are facing an uphill battle and looking for ways to deal with their declining revenue.

One wouldn’t think of spending on sustainability programs as a solution, but many brands are actually increasing their sustainability innovations and partnerships during this time. In a recent survey conducted by the U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol and Sourcing Journal, 43 percent of the 138 global sustainability executives surveyed reported that the coronavirus has had a positive impact on their future commitments to sustainability.

Sustainability is a growing concern to customers, and companies are taking notice. Forty-two percent of respondents said that customers are more vocal about sustainability since Covid-19, and just over half said that they think there is more demand for environmentally sustainable products.

“It’s clear that Covid-19 has caused economic challenges up and down the supply chain, but this survey shows that for brands and retailers, the focus on sustainability remains—and for some has grown,” said Dr. Gary Adams, president of the Trust Protocol.

US Cotton Trust Protocol Survey

Brands understand the real impact customer activism could have on sales. On average, respondents said they thought nearly half their customer base would switch to a competitor if their brand didn’t meet customer sustainability demands.

Clothing brands looking to make serious changes know they must start with the raw materials that go into their products. The majority of respondents say they are increasing their sustainable product innovation, supply-chain sourcing and partnership investments. The U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol, a system for measuring more sustainably grown cotton, was designed for companies to better track and understand the cotton fiber element entering their supply chain. And the data it provides about greenhouse gas emissions and water use—among other metrics—on U.S. cotton farms can be used by brands to demonstrate progress toward sustainability commitments.

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“Customers care about who made their clothes and they also care about the impact their buying decisions have on the environment,” said Joe Little, head of technical and fabric at Tesco and Trust Protocol board member. “To survive the economic downturn caused by Covid-19, brands must respond to changing customer demands for affordable, sustainable quality products and be able to demonstrate verified sustainable credentials—actions, not just words!”

When asked to rank customers’ demands, respondents said that corporate transparency of sustainability practices was among the top consumer wants. Trust Protocol can provide full traceability from the farm to the laydown, a group of bales that mills process simultaneously. The U.S. cotton industry requires a unique identification number assigned to every bale of cotton. That Permanent Bale Identification (PBI) number provides retailers and brands with the ability to trace U.S. cotton throughout the supply chain.

To meet the ever-increasing demands for brands to demonstrate their environmental credentials, the environmental performance of Trust Protocol cotton is measured and analyzed at the field level. The FieldPrint analysis platform—devised by Trust Protocol data partner Field to Market: The Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture—illustrates in graphic form the progress of Trust Protocol growers, which optimize yield, minimize water and chemical inputs, and leave healthy soil for future seasons and generations. This data is then made available, in aggregate form, to brands for use in their own sustainability reporting.

Additionally, the Trust Protocol incorporates a comprehensive program of verifications against Trust Protocol benchmarks, in the form of both second-party and independent third-party audits of grower performance through Control Union Certifications—the latter through on-site visits.

For brands and retailers, the Covid-19 pandemic has provided an opportunity to re-evaluate sustainability practices and commitments. The Trust Protocol can help them make the major changes in their sourcing and supply chains to ensure customers continue to shop with them in the future.

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