The challenge:

Cotton touches most of us every day, from the sheets we sleep on, to the towels we use and the clothes we wear. It is grown in over 80 countries and supports the livelihoods of around 350 million people.

But the way cotton is grown causes major environmental damage, and smallholder farmers and those who process cotton, often work in poor conditions with little pay. The negative social, economic and environmental impacts of conventional cotton production can no longer be ignored. Neither can the additional climate change pressures, including changing rainfall patterns, water availability, rising temperatures and competition for land and fuel.

That's why, in 2017 and with funding from Laudes Foundation, Forum initiated the Cotton 2040 programme, bringing together leading international brands and retailers, sustainable cotton standards, traders, processors, farmers and other stakeholders across the value chain.

Our approach:

 Cotton 2040 aim is to create, and advocate for, a sustainable and fair global cotton industry:

  • which is resilient in a changing climate: research to support understanding of, and securing cross-sector agreement on priorities for, addressing climate risks globally and in India. And to facilitate Cotton 2040 participants in using these insights to shape climate adaptation strategies;
  • which uses business models that reward and incentivise regenerative, and ecologically and socially just practices. We will pilot a business model that has the potential to build resilience to climate disruption, provide meaningful ways for brands to address risks to supply and offer replenishing environmental impacts, as well as improving livelihoods for growers; and
  • where sustainably produced cotton is the norm: building the capacity and commitment of brands and retailers to increase the amount of sustainable cotton they use, including aligning impact metrics to support brands and farmers in using sustainable cotton standards.

Cotton 2040 members currently include over 40 value chain actors (producer organisations, agribusinesses, manufacturers, traders/merchants, brands and retailers); 20 other cotton sector actors (finance, membership organisations, standards, research organisations); and 13 civil society and public sector actors. Participants are based in Africa, South and Southeast Asia, UK and Europe, and the Americas.

“Climate change impacts not just cotton, but also the inter-connected agriculture system, and related supply chains. In order to mitigate these risks, we need to catalyse sector-wide dialogue for proactive changes. Our partnership with Cotton 2040, accelerates this opportunity,” 

- Anita Chester, Head of Materials, Laudes India

Impact so far:

While the Cotton 2040 initiative is still underway, we have so far achieved a range of milestones as follows

1) Planning for climate resilience and adaptation 

Climate impacts are already being felt, and adaptation as well as mitigation is critical in key cotton producing countries like India. In 2021 we published the first-ever Global Analysis of Climate Risks to cotton growing regions, a detailed Climate Risk and Vulnerability Assessment of cotton growing regions in India and an interactive Climate Risk Explorer Tool

The reports secured more than 40 pieces of media coverage, including interviews with Forum CEO Sally Uren on CNBC and Sky News channels, as well as pick up in national media in more than six countries, and coverage in apparel, sustainability and corporate risk trade titles. This enabled the insights to reach senior decision makers in the apparel sector and beyond. 

Three cotton standards and certification organisations are now using these insights to inform their value proposition and programming, and a major UK fashion retailer has also used the report findings in their resilience planning. 

We also convened a series of virtual roundtables to support value chain actors across India, Europe and the US to understand the report findings and their implications for the cotton value chain. Collectively, participants identified priority intervention areas to support climate adaptation, including ecosystem services approaches.

We also continue to raise awareness and build capacity for climate adaptation in the apparel sector through key convenings, including leading the Climate Change Capacity Building track of the 2022 Better Cotton Conference, and ongoing media engagement. 

What’s next:
We will be running a series of capacity building masterclasses with brands and retailers to build their capacity to embed climate adaptation into their strategy and targets.

2) Business models that reward and incentivise regenerative, and ecologically and socially just practices.

Cotton 2040 partnered with the World Resources Institute to evaluate over 50 initiatives and gain stakeholder inputs to establish criteria for transformative business models. To drive awareness beyond Cotton 2040 members, we explored this research with attendees at the Textile Exchange conference in 2021, and summarised key insights from Cotton 2040 members' vision for just and regenerative models in a commentary published in January 2022.  

These insights have helped to shape a pilot for an ecosystem services business model that meets those criteria, to provide a proof of concept with the intention to demonstrate its viability to the sector, and learn what is needed to enable wider adoption.

What’s next: 
Cotton 2040 is 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.

3) Increased uptake by brands and retailers of sustainably produced cotton. 

Cotton 2040 contributes to this shift through aligning sustainability impact metrics to make standards affordable and accessible to brands and farmers; and building the capacity of brands and retailers to source cotton responsibly through the CottonUP Guide and a capacity building programme. 

On average across the 10 brands taking part in the Cotton 2040 capacity building programme, 40% are currently sourcing sustainable cotton and there is a commitment to procure 85% of their cotton sustainably by 2025. Public commitments to sustainable cotton have been made by seven of the 10 participating brands. 

What’s next:
Standards, certification and sourcing strategies are only part of the answer for a shift to sustainable sourcing. There is also a need to increase traceability and transparency across cotton value chains. Cotton 2040 is 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).

Find out more about Cotton 2040 

If you would like to learn more about Cotton 2040 and how you can get involved, please contact Hannah Cunneen.

With thanks to our partners:



Image: Copyright Fairtrade International/Didier Gentilhomme