Explore the CottonUP guide

The Challenge

Cotton is the world’s most abundantly produced natural fibre and touches most of us every day. It is a vital commodity for fashion brands and retailers, representing about 30% of all fibre used in the textile sector.

However, cotton production can present significant environmental and social challenges that undermine the sustainability of the apparel sector as a whole. These include water quantity and quality issues, inappropriate and excessive use of pesticides and fertilisers, low incomes of smallholder farmers, forced or child labour and soil depletion.

The production and sourcing of more sustainable cotton has the potential to lift millions of farmers out of poverty and reduce the commodity’s environmental impacts. There are also clear benefits for businesses, such as positioning as a responsible brand, increased transparency, long-term security of supply and minimising reputational risk. And yet, uptake of sustainable cotton from the industry is only around 3% of total global cotton supply, or 21% of sustainably produced cotton.

Our solution

Together with the partners in the Cotton 2040 coalition, we are calling on brands and retailers to radically increase their sourcing of sustainable cotton and have launched a digital guide to support them with fast-tracking their sourcing strategies. This is the first essential step towards reducing the apparel sector’s negative impacts and ensuring future supply.

The CottonUP guide to sourcing sustainable cotton aims to help apparel industry professionals develop and implement sourcing strategies, in particular across multiple sustainable cotton standards such as organic, Fairtrade or the Better Cotton Initiative. It also shares direct experiences and learning from companies that have already navigated the complex challenges of sourcing more sustainable cotton.

It is part of Cotton 2040, a multi-stakeholder initiative to significantly increase the use of sustainable cotton internationally.

A German version of the CottonUP guide was published in January 2019 with support from the German Partnership for Sustainable Textiles (GIZ). In March 2020 the Guide was published in Japanese with a grant from the Japan Fund for Global Environment and funding from Miki House and Mitsui Bussan I-Fasion Ltd., with support from the Global Alliance for Sustainable Supply Chain.

What can you do

Contact Neil

Who's involved

The CottonUP guide was developed by the Cotton 2040 coalition of leading international brands and retailers, sustainable cotton standards, codes and other programmes existing industry initiatives and other stakeholders across the value chain. Forum for the Future led the work, with generous funding from Laudes Foundation (formerly C&A Foundation).

Supporting partners to date




Phil Townsend, Sustainable Raw Materials Specialist at M&S:
”Today, any company, no matter how large or small, has the opportunity to convert all its products over to a sustainable footing and mainstream more sustainable cotton. The supply and marketing opportunities are both there, and the CottonUP guide will make it a lot easier and quicker for brands and retailers to radically increase the amount of sustainable cotton they source than it was for M&S ten years ago.”

Explore the CottonUP guide