Textile Exchange’s 2025 Sustainable Cotton Challenge aims to be a cornerstone for change in the apparel and textile industry by encouraging brands and retailers to commit to source 100 percent of their cotton from the most sustainable sources in five years’ time.
The second annual 2025 Sustainable Cotton Challenge report includes information and statistics on the achievements and impacts the program’s initiatives are having on water, communities, soil quality, biodiversity, and social considerations and regulations.
“The 2025 Sustainable Cotton Challenge continues to grow with the number of initiatives, brands and manufacturers that are engaged,” La Rhea Pepper, managing director at Textile Exchange, told Sourcing Journal.
Among the key findings of the report: of the 82 Sustainable Cotton Challenge signatories, 73 participated in the 2019 Corporate Fiber and Materials Benchmark program to report on their progress toward their goal of 100 percent cotton being sourced from the approved initiatives by 2025.
In addition, 27.5 percent of signatories have achieved their 2025 target of 100 percent preferred cotton usage, all of which are organic, with the same percentage achieving a preferred cotton share of between 75 percent and 99 percent, and 25 percent achieving a preferred cotton share of between 50 percent and 74 percent.
The purpose of the 2025 Challenge is to increase uptake of organic and preferred cotton, which has the ability to increase the income of smallholder farmers, eliminate highly hazardous pesticides, eliminate or reduce the amount of pesticides and synthetic fertilizer used, reduce water usage and improve water quality and soil health. Pepper said the challenge has helped to increased the amount of more sustainable, organic and regenerative cotton that is entering the marketplace.
The challenge was formed in 2017 when Prince Charles convened a group of CEOs through the work of his International Sustainability Unit. Those original 13 CEOs committed to working together to accelerate the use of sustainable cotton, which paved the way for other industry leaders to follow and resulted in 82 companies now committed to sourcing 100 percent sustainable cotton by the middle of the decade.
Today, 22 percent of the world’s cotton is more sustainable, according to Textile Exchange. By 2025, it is the vision of the 2025 Sustainable Cotton Challenge that more than 50 percent of the world’s cotton is converted to more sustainable growing methods.
“Sustainable, organic and regenerative cotton is contributing to mitigating the climate crisis and provides positive impacts in cotton-growing communities around the world,” Pepper said.
One of the key focuses will be to drive continuous improvement across the initiatives, with emphasis on best practices for soils. Implementing regenerative practices, which puts carbon back into the soil, is a key investment that farmers can make to mitigate the climate crisis, Textile Exchange said.
Brands and retailers joining the challenge and committing to source more sustainable cotton can choose from Textile Exchange’s list of recognized organic and sustainable cotton initiatives. These initiatives include ABRAPA, BASF e3, Better Cotton Initiative, Cleaner Cotton, Cotton made in Africa (CmiA), Fairtrade, Fairtrade Organic, Field to Market, ISCC, myBMP, Organic Cotton, Recycled Cotton, REEL Cotton, Regenerative Cotton, Transitional Cotton and the United States Cotton Trust Protocol.
“The addition of U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol Cotton (USCTP) to the Preferred Fibers List will make it easier for 2025 Sustainable Cotton Challenge participants to achieve their goals,” Dr. Jesse Daystar, vice president and chief sustainability officer at Cotton Incorporated, said. “As the third-largest cotton producer in the world, the U.S. accounts for high volumes of responsibly produced cotton. That cotton represents an ongoing commitment by generations of growers to reducing their environmental impact. Additional data provided by the USCTP offers a higher level of detail on modern cotton farming practices that many textile businesses want to more fully understand.”
By committing to using cotton from these initiatives and standards, the brands are ensuring they maintain the intentions of their sustainable sourcing strategies and the integrity of their commitments.
“We believe cotton can be sourced in a way that actually restores the environments it comes from and betters the lives of the people who grow it,” Zachary Angelini, environmental stewardship manager at Timberland, said.
Commenting in the report, Pepper noted it was being released in the midst of discovering what the impact of the coronavirus will be on cotton communities.
“The entire supply network is being impacted, including farmers who continue to plant and harvest with the changing of the seasons,” she said. “This is an excellent opportunity to pull in sustainable and preferred fibers as we reset and restart the textile industries’ powerful engine. Now is the time to make the paradigm shift from a price to value-driven business model, and to convey the value of our products in a way that will give factory and farm workers a fair price.”