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Ralph Lauren Makes Play for Regenerative American-Grown Cotton

Ralph Lauren Corp. is propping up its supply of sustainable cotton through an industry-first initiative that helps American farmers implement regenerative agricultural practices, such as cover-cropping and no-tillage, across more than 1 million acres of cropland.

The preppy purveyor’s philanthropic arm announced Tuesday that it’s partnering with North Carolina’s Soil Health Institute to launch the U.S. Regenerative Cotton Fund (USRCF), a “unique, farmer-facing, science-based” initiative that will promote long-term sustainable cotton production in the United States while drawing down 1 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent from the atmosphere by 2026.

“At the Ralph Lauren Corporate Foundation, we work to make the dream of a better life a reality by championing equity and creating positive change in communities around the world. Partnering to scale solutions that build community resilience are powerful ways to positively impact people’s lives, now and for the future,” Roseann Lynch, chief people officer at Ralph Lauren Corp and head of the Ralph Lauren Corporate Foundation, said in a statement.

“The U.S. Regenerative Cotton Fund is an ambitious effort crafted in partnership with the experts at the Soil Health Institute that puts growers at the center of creating a sustainable future for U.S. cotton production,” she added.

The Ralph Lauren Corporate Foundation poured in $5 million to jumpstart the fund, which will roll out in Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi and Texas before expanding into Alabama, California, Missouri and North Carolina. Together, the nine states represent 85 percent of U.S. cotton production. Other participating partners of the fund include Cotton Incorporated, the National Cotton Council and Field to Market: The Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture.

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The Soil Health Institute will use soil health and soil carbon indicators to enable farmers to measure and monitor the environmental, social and economic benefits of soil health management and carbon sequestration in their operations. The USRCF will also tag up with Historically Black Colleges and Universities, specifically those with agricultural programs, to establish mentoring programs and develop “increased access to career paths in decision-making positions” in U.S. agriculture.

Regenerative agricultural practices, the companies note, can tackle issues important to both consumers and the environment, such as climate change, water quality and pollinator habitats, yet there remains a “significant” opportunity for expanding the adoption of climate-friendly soil health practices in cotton production. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Census of Agriculture, only 8 percent of cotton cropland uses cover cropping and 21 percent employs no-till farming. The USRCF promises to help farmers generate long-term value for their efforts, including improved profitability.

“We are very grateful for the opportunity to promote soil health and to assist cotton farmers across the U.S. with storing more carbon, building drought resilience and mitigating the very effects of climate change that are impacting us all,” said Cristine Morgan, chief scientific officer at the Soil Health Institute and leader of the U.S. Regenerative Cotton Fund. “To achieve widespread environmental benefits from regenerative agriculture means we must understand farmers’ needs and experiences when adopting these practices. Adoption is hindered by a lack of information on the business case, locally relevant soil health education programs, and until now, knowledge of how healthy a given soil can become and what that means for improving drought resilience, yield stability, economics and other benefits for farmers.”

Cotton is a critical fiber for Ralph Lauren Corp., accounting for 80 percent of the company’s total material use across the Ralph Lauren, Ralph Lauren Purple Label, Polo Ralph Lauren, Lauren Ralph Lauren and Ralph Lauren Home brands. As part of its global citizenship and sustainability goals, the company has pledged to obtain 100 percent of its key materials, including cotton, from sustainable sources. The USRCF initiative, Ralph Lauren Corp. said, complements both its investment into material-science startup Natural Fiber Welding, which will allow it to expand its use of recycled post-consumer cotton, as well as its work with Dow on Color on Demand, a cotton-dyeing platform designed to address water scarcity and pollution.

Ralph Lauren Corp. and Dow published earlier this month an open-source guide to using EcoFast Pure, a Dow-developed cotton pre-treatment solution that they say requires 90 percent fewer process chemicals, 50 percent less water and 40 percent less energy using existing dyeing equipment.

“If we want to protect our planet for the next generation, we have to create scalable solutions that have never been considered before. This requires deep and sometimes unexpected collaboration and a willingness to break down the barriers of exclusivity,” Halide Alagöz, chief product and sustainability officer at Ralph Lauren Corp., said at the time. “We are proud to have partnered with Dow on this innovation and to share it openly with our industry, with the hope that it will help transform how we preserve and use water in our global supply chains.”