Not all sustainable cotton programs are created equal, it seems.
Putting the positives of creating cotton sustainability programs aside, a new report by Pesticide Action Network UK (PAN UK), civil society organization Solidaridad and the World Wildlife Federation (WWF), ranked brands based on their cotton sustainability performance.
The report assessed 37 companies—the world’s largest consumer facing businesses—scoring them out of a possible 19.5 points on policy, actual use in products and traceability, and only eight companies scored three points or more.
“While significant progress has been made by a few leading companies working hard to deliver sustainability, there is significant room for improvement in company sourcing and reporting on sustainable cotton,” the report noted. “Although some major brands and manufacturers have published policies and commitments, in general, there is a widespread absence of publicly available information on policies, sourcing and supply chain traceability across the textile sector—all of which are necessary for overall market transformation.”
Ikea ranked the best for its cotton sustainability with a score of 12, and it was the only company to rank in the green zone, which means it is “leading the way.”
Dutch fashion chain C&A Global and H&M followed Ikea each with nine points, and Adidas had 7.75, the three ranking in the “well on the way” zone. Nike (6.75), Marks & Spencer (5.5), VF Corporation (3.25) and Kering (3), are just “starting the journey,” as per the report.
C&A Global scored highest in the policy department because it has committed to using 100 percent cotton from more sustainable sources by 2020 (as others like Nike and H&M have) and has the best policy for addressing highly hazardous pesticides and regulating water usage.
For the purposes of this report, “more sustainable” cotton is defined as: organic cotton, Fairtrade cotton, Cotton made in Africa (CmiA), Better Cotton (BCI) or recycled cotton.
Ikea scored the highest for actual uptake. By its own criteria, Ikea says it is already sourcing 100 of its cotton from more sustainable sources. Based on the report criteria, 78 percent of Ikea’s cotton comes from more sustainable sources, which is the highest reported percentage among the companies assessed.
Brands got the lowest scores overall for traceability as even the ones doing good, sustainable things aren’t doing such a good job telling anyone about it.
“Few companies report on the geographic origins of their cotton supply or publish a list of manufacturers of finished products, fabric or yarn,” the report noted.
H&M ranked the highest for being most up front about its supply chain relations in the final production stage and was the only company assessed that also provides info on yarn and fabric manufacturers further down the supply chain.
Companies that had the highest scores had several things in common: they are members of the Better Cotton Initiative, they’ve committed to using 100 percent cotton from more sustainable sources by 2020 or sooner, they have plans in place to reduce water during cotton production and they have policy measures on cotton recycling.
“Most of the companies analyzed do not have clear policies regarding a more sustainable cotton supply. These companies do not appear to prioritize sustainability or ethical business regarding the sustainability of their cotton supplies, or at least fail to adequately report on their efforts to do so,” according to the report. “While the leading companies have made good progress, more action is needed to make a lasting difference in the cotton sector.”