U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol

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This article is part of our special report Exploring farming sustainability options.

There is an urgent need for a harmonised framework on corporate communications around product sustainability, and the U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol welcomes the EU’s efforts to drive greater sustainability in global supply chains, including in the textiles sector.

By Gary Adams, President of the U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol.

Buying environmentally friendlier products has become a priority for consumers. In the textiles and apparel sector, this means that brands and retailers need to demonstrate the concrete action they are taking to make their products more sustainable.

There is currently a plethora of sustainability labels on the market, but a dearth of solutions can reassure consumers and stakeholders they can access information that is reliable, trackable, and comparable. Unfortunately, a great many of the voluntary sustainability labels available make claims that are not objectively verified by independent and disinterested third parties and lack the rigour that such independent verification brings.

This reporting gap threatens to undermine the progress made to source sustainably and can leave companies open to accusations of greenwashing. Data and transparency are therefore critical for companies to be able to assure that their sustainability claims are credible. Indeed in research commissioned by the U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol an overwhelming majority of the brands and retailers surveyed – 65% – said that data is central to achieving their sustainability goals.

This is a major issue not only because it has created serious mistrust among consumers, but also because even the most rigorous sustainability protocols that are data-driven and rely on clear independent third-party verification are being tarred with the same brush in consumers’ minds.

This is why the vast array of sustainability labels on the market needs to be thoroughly reviewed and those making unsubstantiated or false claims need to be clearly called out.

The environmental footprint method currently being developed by the European Commission which is likely to be integrated into the initiative on substantiating green claims is a first, important step to achieving the greater clarity required.

This is urgent and important because today the EU recognises only a very limited number of voluntary sustainability labels. This is harming serious voluntary schemes such as the U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol, which if given official EU recognition would increase the breadth of sustainable product options available in the market and encourage more sustainable production down the value chain.

Through quantifiable and verifiable goals and measurement, the U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol delivers the sustainability credentials apparel producers, brands and retailers need to validate their own sustainability benchmarks. Over the past 35 years, US cotton has seen significant reductions in land, water and energy usage, as well as in soil loss and greenhouse gas emissions. Focusing on continuous improvement and innovation, the U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol has set ambitious goals of further reductions in these key metrics by 2025, which have been detailed earlier in this report.

The data collected by the U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol is measured and verified by Control Union Certifications (CUC), an independent third-party auditor. This verification provides total assurance that our metrics are accurate, robust and credible. CUC has certified more than 150 programmes worldwide. The U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol is also included in Textile Exchange’s list of 36 preferred fibres and materials that more than 170 participating brands and retailers can select from as part of Textile Exchange’s Material Change Index programme, and is a member of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, the Forum for the Future Cotton 2040 and the CottonUp guide.

I encourage our partners in the EU to ensure that the measures incorporated into the EU’s Green Public procurement Criteria and other relevant initiatives, such as the Sustainable Products Initiative and EU Strategy for Sustainable Textiles, will include concrete actions that help drive sustainability practices so that they become the norm throughout global supply chains, not least in the textiles sector. And this is why I am calling for the urgent recognition by the EU of the U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol as a credible, serious, data-drive and independently-verified voluntary sustainability protocol, which can help our European partners drive this change.

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