November 2023 - Now live: The ‘Cotton 2040 Impact Report’ provides the concluding updates from the Cotton 2040 initiative, sharing key findings from three focus areas and four topline recommendations to make cotton a climate resilient, agriculturally regenerative, and socially equitable crop.

Read the report

July 2023 - After eight years of convening actors across the cotton sector to align on issues critical for the industry’s future, the Cotton 2040 initiative has come to a close. 

Over the years, Cotton 2040 has brought together diverse stakeholders from across the cotton value chain, forging collaboration, and inspiring transformative change, in its mission to create a more ecologically-replenishing, equitable and just cotton industry. Through the collective efforts of farmers, brands, retailers, manufacturers, (I)NGOs, sustainability certifications, and industry associations, the initiative has advanced sustainable cotton sourcing strategies, undertaken global-firsts in climate risks associated in cotton growing regions, promoted transparency and traceability, and championed improved access and agency for cotton farmers and workers.

As we mark the conclusion of this initiative, we extend our gratitude to all the partners, participants, and supporters who have been instrumental in making Cotton 2040 a success. We would like to express our deepest thanks to our funders, Laudes Foundation, for their generous support and unwavering commitment to driving positive change in the cotton sector. Their vision and investment have been instrumental in enabling the achievements of Cotton 2040.

We are pleased to announce that an impact report will be published in 2023, showcasing the learnings and insights gained from the Cotton 2040 initiative. This report will serve as a testament to the achievements, challenges, and lessons learned throughout the initiative, providing valuable guidance and inspiration for the future of sustainable cotton production. Our ecosystem services market cotton pilot also continues with delivery partners in the US, of which our insights have recently been shared

Although Cotton 2040 has concluded, Forum remains committed to driving deep, systemic change and fostering social justice and ecological-replenishing mindsets and capabilities across global value chains, building upon the foundations laid by Cotton 2040.

For further details on Cotton 2040, including staying updated about the upcoming impact report, as well as our Value Chains work, please reach out to Hannah Cunneen.

Scroll below to find resources and materials as part of our work on Cotton 2040.

The Challenge 

Cotton is one of the world’s leading commodities. It represents approximately 31% of all fibre used in the textile industry and its production takes up more than 2.5% of total arable land. On an annual basis, around 26 million tonnes of cotton is produced, across 80 countries on an estimated 32 million hectares of land, with a global export market value of $50B (ITC, 2019). The cotton sector also directly supports the livelihoods of 350 million people, 250 million which work in cotton processing and 100 million farmers and  cultivators (IISD, 2020) Despite its importance to the global economy, however, the future of cotton faces increasing uncertainty.

Cotton production can be associated with significant social, environmental and economic impacts, including over-consumption of water, inappropriate or excessive use of pesticides and fertilisers, low and insecure incomes of smallholder farmers and workers, and soil depletion. The sector is under scrutiny for human rights abuses, such as in Xinjiang, and for waste which is exacerbated by the predominant fast-fashion business model and lack of focus on garment recyclability. In addition, climate change impacts such as changing rainfall patterns, availability of water, rising temperatures and competition for land, are likely to result in a disruption to the industry’s future supply. Being continually stripped of resources, the land, workers and farmers have been absorbing a disproportionate amount of industry risk for too long and are inevitably crumbling under the pressure. Growing and sourcing sustainable cotton can help mitigate and reduce these risks.

And yet, despite the ‘decade of delivery’ on the Sustainable Development Goals being well underway, there is worryingly little coordination across the cotton sector on how to respond, not only to current challenges, but to those looming on the horizon. There is a lack of comprehensive data to understand the relationships between climate risks and existing socio-economic and environmental vulnerabilities and joined-up dialogue around the potential impacts of climate change, and how to equip farmers and other stakeholders with the knowledge and skills needed to reduce their impact and become more resilient in a climate-disrupted world. Businesses are unprepared for disruptions to supply; uptake of sustainable cotton still remains low, and mainstream business models perpetuate the root causes of many of these systemic problems.

To survive in an increasingly climate-disrupted world, the cotton system requires significant, in cases radical, change which can only be achieved by a systemic, collaborative approach involving actors across the supply chain.

What’s the sustainable cotton solution?

Cotton 2040 was a platform which aimed to accelerate progress and maximise the impact of existing sustainable cotton initiatives, bringing together leading international brands and retailers, sustainable cotton standards, traders, processors, farmers and other stakeholders across the value chain. 

Facilitated by Forum for the Future, with funding support from Laudes Foundation, Cotton 2040 envisaged a sustainable global cotton industry,

  • which is resilient in a changing climate;
  • which uses business models that support sustainable production and livelihoods; and
  • where sustainably produced cotton is the norm.

What did we do?

In 2020-2023, Cotton 2040 focussed on delivering three interconnected, sequenced workstreams with the biggest potential to drive a systemic shift to mainstream sustainable cotton. Find out more.

Planning for climate adaptation

Creating sector-wide collaborative action to understand and adapt to the changing climate. This work was supported by WTW’s Climate and Resilience Hub.

To date, we gathered climate, environmental and socio-economic data, and explored and consolidated the potential impacts of climate change on cotton production - both on a global level and specifically for India. 

Explore the first-ever Global Analysis of Climate Risks to cotton growing regions, and a detailed Climate Risk and Vulnerability Assessment of cotton growing regions in India. See the findings and the interactive Climate Risk Explorer tool.

The resources are designed to enable actors across the cotton industry to better understand the serious future challenges to cotton production, and inspire more ambitious action to reduce emissions and build the sector’s resilience. Find out more in the recording of our webinar

Over the past months, we have brought cotton producers, brands, retailers and industry initiatives together over a series of virtual roundtables to develop a common understanding across the cotton system as to how climate change is likely to impact key stakeholders and regions, and agree on a shared set of priorities for both urgent and long-term action across the cotton sector. You can watch all recordings on our YouTube channel.

In October 2022, Forum and WTW hosted a series of free capacity building masterclasses for brands and retailers to build their capacity to embed climate adaptation into their strategy and targets. Tune into the recordings here.

Sourcing sustainable cotton

In order to drive the uptake of sustainable cotton, we worked with a cohort of eleven brands and retailers, to develop and implement sourcing strategies across multiple cotton standards such as organic, Fairtrade, USCTP,  CMIA, the Better Cotton Initiative and others, through a bespoke education and capacity building programme.

We have also updated and improved the CottonUP guide. Supporting partners include Anthesis and The Japanese Sustainable Cotton Association.

We scoped a potential traceability pilot to capture data along the value chain to show where challenges and issues arise and to inform future interventions which benefit all actors. The pilot also built capacity of participating brands to work with their supply chain to make improvements (e.g. to enable a shift to regenerative agriculture or better labour conditions).

Watch a recording of our introductory CottonUP webinar.

Developing innovative business models to transform cotton supply chains

To ensure a future for cotton’s farmers and cotton production for the wider industry, we need to move towards far more sustainable ways of doing business. It is critical to find and scale business models which can support the transformation towards a resilient, regenerative, and just cotton supply chain: that are based on fairness; that build in resilience; and that reward those who put more into the environment and society than they take out. This workstream aimed to identify, and then pilot, or prototype, a number of business models that fulfil key sustainability criteria. This work was supported by the World Resources Institute (WRI).

Over 2021, we worked with a wide set of stakeholders from across the cotton value chain to develop, test and refine a set of criteria that need to be achieved for more resilient, regenerative, and just cotton supply chains to exist. In particular, we explored how new business models could enable this transformation. To this effect, we examined nearly 50 agricultural supply chain initiatives against these criteria to identify current activity and understand the biggest need for business model innovation. In collaboration with industry experts, we have identified sustainable business models for further exploration and prototyping or piloting.

Read our insights on The Innovative Business Models That Can Transform Cotton Supply Chains, published with WRI in January 2022. 

In 2022, we partnered with the Ecosystem Services Market Consortium (ESMC), cotton producer networks and Growing our Future on a farm-level pilot in the US. The pilot aims to support both marginalised and larger conventional farmers producing cotton - alongside other crops - to adopt regenerative practices using the financing and technical support provided by ecosystem service markets.

Explore the insights from the pilots. Contact Hannah Cunneen to find out more.

Aligning sustainability impact metrics

Over 2019-2020, Cotton 2040 continued its work with sustainable cotton standards, programmes and codes on pathways towards greater alignment of sustainable cotton impact metrics. In September 2020, all partners published a jointly-signed commitment statement, confirming their intention that the Delta Indicator Framework will become a credible and shared framework to guide impact measurement and reporting of core sustainability issues of relevance to the cotton sector. Creating more credible, consistent and comparable data will help brands and retailers to more confidently track the impact of their sustainable cotton sourcing decisions. If your organisation has an interest in sustainable cotton you are invited to engage with the Delta Project as it moves forward.

Watch the recording of a webinar hosted by the Cotton 2040 and Project Delta teams in December 2020.

To learn more about the impact Cotton 2040 has achieved so far, take a look at the Cotton 2040 case study.

Cotton 2040 impact case study

Who we worked with

Cotton 2040 welcomed the following partners from across the value chain.

Sponsor partner: 

Related links: