Global challenges require global solutions

Why today’s opening of the U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol to European brands and retailers matters.
Dr Gary Adams, CEO of the U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol

By Dr Gary Adams

Dr Gary Adams is CEO of the U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol

15 Jul 2020

As the world emerges from the pandemic, sustainability is high not just on the European policy agenda but also in public consciousness. Sustainable textiles are in the front line of this. The U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol can help European brands and retailers meet this ever-growing demand for environmentally sustainable fibres.

In the post-Covid world the European Union has taken something of a lead in pushing for a green recovery and more sustainable society. This has given the European Green Deal even more urgency and political oomph.  Back in December European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said the Green Deal’s goal was ‘to reconcile the economy with our planet’[1]. The past months have seen a quick succession of major green policy announcements, including the Circular Economy Action Plan, and the Farm-to-Fork, Biodiversity, and Textile strategies.

Sometime European Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Karmenu Vella once described textiles as the new plastic. European Parliament research reveals that Europeans have expanded their wardrobes by 40% over the past decades[2]. European brands and retailers face the same challenges as their international counterparts across the entire textile value chain: how to provide high-quality products for European consumers while keeping their environmental footprint as light as possible.

That is why today is such an important day. It marks the opening of the U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol to brands and retailers. By joining the U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol, European brands and retailers can benefit from a new system for responsibly grown cotton that will provide annual data for six areas of sustainability in line with the UN Sustainability Goals. This will allow them to choose more sustainable cotton that will meet consumers’ demands, European policy objectives, and their own sustainability criteria.

Brands who become members of the U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol will have access to aggregate year-on-year data on water use, greenhouse gas emissions, energy use, soil carbon and land use efficiency. The protocol brings quantifiable and verifiable goals and measurement to sustainable cotton production. It verifies US cotton’s progress through sophisticated data collection and independent third-party verification that allows European textile stakeholders to measure their sustainability metrics and improve their environmental commitments. It also gives European brands and retailers the critical reassurance that the cotton fibre part of their supply chain is sustainably sourced with lower environmental and social risks. By utilising a data-driven approach that relies on innovative new technologies, cutting-edge research and best management practices, we are setting a new standard in sustainable cotton.

Over the past 35 years US cotton producers have slashed water usage by 82% per bale, cut energy use by 38%, driven down greenhouse gas emissions by 30% and reduced land use by 42% per bale. The adoption of practices such as minimal tillage, GPS and sensor-driven precision agriculture and the growing of winter cover crops have further improved soil health, reducing loss and erosion by 44% per hectare and increasing soil carbon levels. We have used our longstanding knowledge and practices in sustainability to create an ambitious protocol that complements existing international sustainable cotton programmes.

And as a complement to  those existing sustainability programmes, the U.S Cotton Trust Protocol has been designed from the ground up to fit the unique cotton mass-growing environment of the United States. The protocol works with Field to Market: The Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture, and Control Union Certifications North America, and last month was added to Textile Exchange’s list of 36 preferred fibres and materials. It is overseen by a multi-stakeholder board of directors representing the entire textile value chain, from brands and retailers, civil society and independent sustainability experts to cotton growers, ginners, merchants, wholesalers and cooperatives, mills and cottonseed handlers.

Global challenges require global solutions. That’s why I’m thrilled to announce the opening of the U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol to European brands and retailers today. Both they and we can have a crucial role to play in securing Europe’s sustainable textile future, and I personally invite them all to join us on that journey.