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Adidas Jumps to Top of Sustainable Cotton Sourcing Ranks

Adidas has become a global leader in sourcing sustainable cotton.

In “The Cotton Ranking 2020,” published by NGOs the Pesticide Action Network (PAN) UK, Solidaridad and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the athletic wear retailer moved from its sixth place spot on last year’s list to the top of this one.

Adidas now sources 100 percent of its cotton from sustainable sources and leads the Cotton Ranking 2020 as the most established brand for sustainable cotton, with IKEA and H&M Group following second and third. C&A, Otto Group, Marks & Spencer, Levi Strauss, Tchibo, Nike and Decathlon rounding out the top 10.

Overall, big brands are showing sizable progress when it comes to their uptake of the more sustainable commodity. But the report did reveal that the divide between companies that take their environmental responsibilities seriously and those that do not, is widening.

What’s more, the study uncovered that while 21 percent of global cotton production is now more sustainable in how its grown and cultivated, only 5 percent of global production is actively purchased as sustainable by retailers and brands. The rest has to be sold as conventional cotton because not enough of the big brands explicitly shop for more sustainable cotton.

“Shockingly, three quarters of sustainable cotton is still sold as conventional cotton,” Isabelle Roger, global cotton program manager at Solidaridad Network, said. “Farmer groups end up selling the majority of their more sustainable produce as conventional cotton due to lack of demand. If the failing brands took their responsibilities seriously, this wouldn’t be an issue.”

The report assessed 77 cotton-using companies estimated to use more than 10,000 metric tons of cotton annually on their public policies and commitments, how much of the cotton they use is actually from sustainable sources and on how open they are with their supply chain traceability.

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Companies like Bestseller and Decathlon, which in 2017 were ranked as “starting the journey,” are now “‘leading the way,” according to the report, thanks to the sharp increase in sustainable cotton use. Nearly all companies that made public commitments have made substantial improvements, the report noted.

The number of companies lagging behind is largely unchanged since 2017, with roughly one-third—including global names like Amazon, Footlocker, Giorgio Armani and Forever 21—scoring zero in the ranking, despite increasing global concerns about worsening water scarcity, pollution, land degradation and biodiversity loss.

“The ranking reveals that there is a small but growing group of frontrunners who are leading the way toward a more sustainable cotton sector, with their commitment over the last few years paying off,” WWF global water stewardship lead Alexis Morgan, said. “The report gives plenty of evidence that public commitments lead to results, however many companies have still not taken the necessary steps. CEOs of these laggard companies must change course and make time-bound commitments to use more sustainable cotton.”

While there’s more that could be done, the report noted that for the first time, more than 50 percent of ranked companies now have commitments to use sustainable cotton.

Eleven big brands, including Nike, H&M and C&A, have committed to sourcing 100 percent of their cotton from more sustainable sources by the end of this year. And that companies like IKEA, Adidas and Marks & Spencer, are aiming to maintain their 100 percent sustainable sourcing track records.

Companies, the report authors urged, should not only meet and sustain their target over time, but also uphold their commitment to making the global cotton sector more sustainable, and have a deeper positive impact on cotton farming communities and their environment.

Brands that are “leading the way” perform better than the rest in all areas, according to the report, but the difference is most marked in how much cotton they source is from more sustainable sources. Only 23 companies report on the absolute volume of more sustainable cotton they source and most have shared this in confidence with the researchers. Only 11 companies publish how much cotton lint they source in total.

“Companies are not transparent enough about their supply chains and purchasing practices,” Keith Tyrell, director of PAN UK, said. “We need to see more time-bound targets, higher proportions of more sustainable cotton being sourced and transparency on where their cotton really comes from.”