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COVID-19 Driving Greater Sustainability Demand, Survey Finds

The results of a new global survey show a majority of sustainability leaders at apparel and textile brands said their customers’ demands for environmentally sustainable practices and products has increased since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol conducted this survey to gauge how sustainability programs at brands and retailers have changed since the coronavirus pandemic began.

The survey revealed that 54 percent of respondents said their customers’ demands for more eco-friendly practices and products has “significantly” or “somewhat” increased since the onset of the coronavirus outbreak, and 42 percent said that customers are also more vocal in those demands. However, 59 percent said they believe customers will still continue to prioritize price when making purchases.

Almost half of all respondents seemed to believe their customers are more likely to hold them accountable at the register for those actions and that their customers would switch brands if their company didn’t meet its sustainability commitments. While 9 percent of those surveyed reported pausing most or all sustainability initiatives due to COVID-19, most companies continue to focus their sustainability efforts on manufacturing, sourcing of raw materials or traceability.

The survey found that 43 percent of respondents believe COVID-19 has had a positive impact on investments in sustainability efforts during this period, while 40 percent believe it has had a negative impact. Similarly, they believe their customers are facing the same struggle between their personal finances and environmental concerns. When asked to rank how they believe customers will prioritize their purchases in the next year, respondents ranked the top two priorities as “getting the best possible deal” and “brand or retailer alignment with their personal values.”

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“It’s clear that COVID-19 has caused economic challenges up and down the supply chain, but this survey shows that companies and their customers remain focused on sustainability,” Dr. Gary Adams, president of the U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol, said. “As we enter recovery in many countries, systems like the Trust Protocol will be more important than ever so brands can have the data they need to show they are meeting their science-based targets.”

The pandemic’s impact on companies’ investments in sustainability initiatives differed significantly by market–North American respondents were least likely to invest, where only 26 percent of respondents believe COVID-19 has had a positive impact on sustainability investments at their company. In Europe, 63 percent said the pandemic has had a positive impact on their company’s sustainability efforts, while 46 percent of respondents in Asia said they think there have been increases in proactive investments in sustainability initiatives.

​Many companies are looking for ways to buoy their sustainability programs through the pandemic by focusing on holding the course with increased help from outside partnerships until they can afford to reinvest in new innovations. Meanwhile, they are increasingly focused on improving the transparency in environmental reporting, improving sustainability in sourcing and aligning with external sustainability standards or protocols for their existing programs.

U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol sponsored the online survey, issued from June 21-July 5, among 138 senior executives involved in or fully in charge of sustainability decision-making at their company from eight global markets. Respondents were recruited through Sourcing Journal and an industry-leading panel partner. Respondents from North America, Europe and Asia are strongly represented in this research. Results reflect experiences across a diverse range of textile-based industries, including home goods, footwear, accessories, fabrics and apparel.

The U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol underpins and verifies U.S. cotton’s progress through sophisticated data collection and independent third-party verification. Choosing Trust Protocol cotton offers brands and retailers critical assurances 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 through the Fieldprint Calculator and verified with Control Union Certifications.