In 2018, 93 brand and retailer members of the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) sourced more than one mn metric tonne of Better Cotton. The non-profit organisation experienced a record level of uptake as 93 retailer and brand members sourced more than one mn metric tonne of Better Cotton – that’s enough cotton to make around 1.5 bn pairs of jeans. Better Cotton uptake increased 45 per cent on the previous year, and at the end of 2018, retailer and brand member sourcing of Better Cotton accounted for 4 per cent of global cotton consumption. By integrating Better Cotton into their sustainable sourcing strategies and increasing sourcing commitments year-on-year, BCI’s retailer and brand members are driving demand for more sustainable cotton production worldwide.

Now, to continue to accelerate the mainstreaming of Better Cotton and hit BCI’s 2020 targets – to reach and train five mn cotton farmers and have Better Cotton account for 30 per cent of global cotton production – BCI reportedly needs the next wave of sustainability leaders to come on board and close the gap between supply and demand.

Founding BCI member, the H&M group, has played an integral role in the growth of Better Cotton – in 2018 the retailer sourced the largest volume of Better Cotton (for the third year running). “Cotton is one of H&M group’s most important materials – BCI plays a key role in our goal towards using only sustainably-sourced cotton by 2020,” says Mattias Bodin, Sustainability Business Expert, materials and innovation at H&M group. Adidas is another founding member with ambitious sustainable sourcing targets. In 2018, Adidas sourced 100 per cent of its cotton as more sustainable cotton.

Ebru Gencoglu, Senior Manager, merchandising and sustainability at Adidas, adds: “BCI and Adidas have worked closely from the beginning to reach this ambitious goal. BCI has engaged actors throughout the supply chain to enable the right amount of supply in the right locations. This has helped our suppliers to source cotton as Better Cotton, which allowed us to ramp up sourcing in a short period of time.”

BCI’s demand-driven funding model means that retailer and brand sourcing of Better Cotton directly translates into increased investment in training for cotton farmers on more sustainable practices.

For example, in the 2017-18 cotton season, BCI retailer and brand members, public donors and IDH (the Sustainable Trade Initiative) contributed more than €6.4 mn, enabling more than one mn farmers across China, India, Mozambique, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkey and Senegal to receive support and training. Aldi South Group is among a group of new BCI Members who will help to increase uptake of Better Cotton in 2019 and beyond.

“Aldi supports sustainable cotton standards in its aim to ensure improved farming conditions and reduced environmental impacts,” says Katharina Wortman, Director of CRI at Aldi South Group. “Aldi joined BCI at the end of 2017, and we foresee that BCI will play a significant role in our approach to responsibly-sourced cotton. The mass-balance chain of custody system used by BCI enables our supply chain partners to more easily source Better Cotton.” A member that has illustrated how to scale uptake of Better Cotton rapidly is Gap Inc. The retailer joined BCI in 2016 and is now among the top five BCI retailer and brand members based on total Better Cotton sourcing volumes.

“Better Cotton sourcing is an important part of Gap Inc’s sustainability strategy,” says Agata Smeets, Director, sustainability sourcing strategy at Gap Inc. “We have been able to leverage our scale across our portfolio of brands to accelerate sourcing of Better Cotton in a relatively short time.”

As well as increased investment in farmer training and capacity building, uptake of Better Cotton sends a clear signal to the market and has an impact throughout the supply chain. Cotton traders are seeing the increased demand for more sustainably-produced cotton but believe there is much more to be done. Marco Baenninger, Head Trader, Hand Picked Cotton at Paul Reinhart AG, says: “Better Cotton has become an integral part of the international cotton trade. It’s very pleasing to see that uptake from retailers has increased strongly over the last few years.