Fashion companies are facing intense scrutiny and pressure to prove their supply chain’s sustainability credentials as consumers become increasingly curious about the environmental impact of their clothing. In particular, raw materials are under the microscope as the building blocks for apparel. And due to its ubiquity and much-discussed eco footprint, cotton is a chief focus of environmental investigation.
In response to this greater need for sustainability information, the U.S. cotton industry launched the U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol program last year. The Trust Protocol was designed to deliver a better future for U.S. cotton by encouraging responsible growing practices that support a healthier environment. The scientifically based initiative is centered on six quantifiable and measurable sustainability metrics: land use, soil carbon, water management, soil loss, greenhouse gas emissions and energy efficiency.
Along with tracking and measuring progress, the Trust Protocol allows cotton growers and members throughout the supply chain to more effectively communicate about the efforts being made in cotton sustainability. And the data collection helps to dispel myths about cotton’s impact—from the effect on soil health to how much water is really used on crops.
Since the U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol launched in 2020, its membership has quickly ballooned to include more than 560 brand, retailer, mill and manufacturer members, such as Levi Strauss & Co., Gap Inc., PVH Corp., Tesco and Gildan. The Trust Protocol has also gathered grower members, and to-date, more than 950,000 bales have been entered into the system.
“The U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol was created to set a new standard in more sustainable cotton, and we are proud of the significant achievements made in the program’s first year,” said Dr. Gary Adams, president of the U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol. “Our goals are rooted in the idea that U.S. cotton production can contribute to the protection and preservation of the planet by using sustainable and responsible growing techniques.”
Also in its first year, the U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol was added to Textile Exchange’s list of preferred fibers and materials. The Trust Protocol is one of 36 fibers and materials that more than 170 participating brands and retailers can select from as part of Textile Exchange’s Material Change Index program.
Sustainability is a collaborative effort. With this in mind, the Trust Protocol is part of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, which focuses on collective commercial impact; Textile Exchange’s 2025 Sustainable Cotton Challenge, which is asking brands to commit to sourcing 100 percent of their cotton from sustainable sources by 2025; Cotton Up, a guide for retailers who are seeking more sustainable cotton; and Forum for the Future’s Cotton 2040 initiative, which unites those in cotton to address sustainability risks. The program is also aligned with the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals.
In its first year, the Trust Protocol also introduced the Protocol Consumption Management Solution (PCMS). Recognizing the growing importance of increased supply chain visibility to brand and retail members, the U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol is collaborating with TextileGenesis™ to offer its members article-level supply chain transparency. In combination with the existing Trust Protocol platform, TextileGenesis’ blockchain solution will allow the PCMS to record and verify the movement of U.S. cotton fiber through the entire process by capturing and authenticating transactions between the multiple participants along the complete supply chain. Trust Protocol brand and retailer members can claim Protocol Cotton Consumption Units, or digital tokens that are tied to physical cotton produced, allowing them to make specific sustainability claims based on information collected from growers in the program.
“Today, the Trust Protocol is the world’s first sustainable cotton fiber to offer article-level transparency and visibility of cotton throughout the supply chain, backed by an unparalleled level of verified data from our growers,” Adams said. “We look forward to building upon these successes in years to come.”
Click here to learn more about the U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol.