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US Cotton Trust Protocol’s Annual Report Details Latest Wins

The U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol has published its second annual report, detailing the results for the 2021-22 period, running from Aug. 1, 2021 to July 31, 2022.

The farm-level, science-based sustainability program reported significant improvements in the sustainability metrics measured, an increase in membership across the value chain, the completion of nine successful pilots, and its growing international recognition by independent and government bodies.

During the period, the Cotton Trust Protocol was able to provide farm-level data that showed grower members demonstrating tangible results across six key metrics. Using peer-to-peer data sharing and aggregated sustainability data, these members recorded a 13 percent increase in land use​ efficiency and a 14 percent rise in water use efficiency.

In addition, they posted a 25 percent reduction in energy use, a 21 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, a 78 percent reduction in soil loss and a positive Soil Conservation Index for 70 percent of growers.

Membership across the program has grown solidly in the U.S. and internationally. Enrolled areas of U.S. cotton production have doubled since the program’s pilot year to 1.1 million acres, with all 17 U.S. cotton-producing states are now represented.

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Mill and manufacturer membership has increased significantly, growing to 820 companies from 30 countries, an increase of more than 50 percent in the last year. The number of brand and retail members has grown to 40 and now include Ralph Lauren, J. Crew, Tesco, Levi Strauss & Co., Gap and Old Navy.

The Trust Protocol has been piloting, testing and scaling the technology solutions that record and track the movement of U.S. cotton and Protocol cotton through brand and retailer member’s supply chains to their finished products. This allows for tracking cotton through complex supply chains in a way that has not been possible at scale before.

Nine completed pilots involving global brands and retailers with nearly 150 mills​ have been initiated and a further 15 pilots are confirmed to be conducted with 125 additional mills.

In 2022, the Trust Protocol received international recognition from two major evaluation bodies. In May, the Trust Protocol was approved by Siegelklarheit, an initiative of the German federal government​ that is a transparent, independent and comprehensive evaluation system that informs consumers about credible seals to allow them to make more sustainable purchasing decisions.

The Trust Protocol was accepted as an ISEAL community member in June. ISEAL community membership comes just 18 months after the program’s launch, following a rigorous and meticulous approval process. ISEAL supports ambitious sustainability systems and their partners to tackle the world’s most pressing challenges by defining credible practice for sustainability systems based on emerging global consensus.

“These results are excellent, and even more so given the challenges of the past year, from increased scrutiny brought by the changing regulatory landscape to U.S. cotton growers faced with rising production costs and weather extremes,” Dr. Gary Adams, president of the U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol, said. “The past year has been one of perseverance, dedication and commitment. That has meant focusing on foundational growth and making thoughtful, innovative decisions.”

“To continue this growth and ensure the program’s success we need to maintain our unwavering commitment to, and support of, our growers as they work towards continuously improving against our six core environmental metrics,” Adams added. “Maintaining a focus on innovation and implementation of the latest technologies will also be a key tool in helping them to improve our future environmental footprint.”

Adams said as the organization continues to increase the number of growers participating, “we also expect that future environmental performance against our targets may change.”

“Ultimately, to have the greatest impact requires both the broadest participation and the best environmental performance,” he added. “We strive for both, but we also want to be transparent about our expectations for the future with our partners as we grow.”

Launched in 2020, the U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol was designed to set a new standard in more sustainably grown cotton, ensuring that it contributes to the protection and preservation of the planet, using the most sustainable and responsible techniques. It is the only farm level, science-based program that provides quantifiable, verifiable goals and measurement in six key sustainability metrics as well as article-level supply chain transparency.

The Trust Protocol is overseen by a multi-stakeholder board of directors comprised of representatives from brands and retailers, civil society and independent sustainability experts, as well as the cotton-growing industry, including growers, ginners, merchants, wholesalers and cooperatives, mills and cottonseed handlers.