Cotton 2040 aims to create a resilient cotton industry in an increasingly climate-disrupted world by bringing together leading international brands and retailers, sustainable cotton standards, existing industry initiatives, traders, processors, farmers and other stakeholders across the value chain.

Join our “Insights to Action” masterclasses on climate risk in October 2022

Explore the first-ever Global Analysis of Climate Risks to cotton growing regions

New insights: The Innovative Business Models That Can Transform Cotton Supply Chains

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.

Now live: Global Analysis of Climate Risks to cotton growing regions

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 is a platform which aims 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 envisages 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 are we doing?

In 2020-2022, Cotton 2040 will focus 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 is supported by WTW’s Climate and Resilience Hub.

To date, we have 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. 

Now live: 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. Explore 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 recent webinar

Over the past few 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 will be hosting a series of free capacity building masterclasses for brands and retailers to build their capacity to embed climate adaptation into their strategy and targets. Register here.

Contact Bhairevi Aiyer find out more.

Sourcing sustainable cotton

In order to drive the uptake of sustainable cotton, we are working with a cohort of eleven brands and retailers, whom we are helping 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 are also continuing to update and improve the CottonUP guide. Supporting partners include Anthesis and The Japanese Sustainable Cotton Association.

We are also scoping 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 could also build 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).

Contact Neil Walker to find out more or 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 aims 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 are now identifying sustainable business models for further exploration and prototyping or piloting in 2022. 

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

In 2022, we are partnering 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.

Contact Hannah Cunneen to find out more.

Aligning sustainability impact metrics

Over 2019-2020, Cotton 2040 has 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.

Find out more about the Impacts Alignment workstream here or contact Charlene Collison. You can also 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

Get involved

The window for us to create a resilient and sustainable cotton sector is shrinking fast. Get involved today and join our dynamic collaboration - Cotton 2040 - to benefit from being part of a network that shares collective expertise and influence. 

Each partner involved in Cotton 2040 has joined in recognition that no one organisation or company can solve the sector’s challenges alone. But we need many more to join - and more funding to make the impact that is needed.

We are now inviting expressions of interest and commitment from organisations wishing to contribute to one or more of these workstreams or get involved in upcoming pilots.

Find out more

Read more about Cotton 2040’s three-year programme and how you can get involved as a partner. You can also access a recording of this presentation on YouTube.

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Get in touch

Partner benefits

If you are a leading business, civil society or government organisation, by joining, you will:

  • Become a member of a powerful collaboration geared to deliver change and build stronger relationships
  • Demonstrate sector leadership and ambition on a critical supply chain challenge
  • Contribute to and benefit from specific workstream deliverables e.g. a climate impacts map, business case for investors, capacity building for sourcing teams, new business model pilot
  • Get a chance to share expertise and learn from others
  • Become part of Forum‘s growing network of organisations driving wider change
  • Have the ability to inform the strategy and direction of the work.

Who’s involved?

Cotton 2040 is a growing initiative and we’re delighted to have welcomed the following partners from across the value chain so far. If you’re interested in joining, please contact Hannah Cunneen.

Sponsor partner: 

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