How to secure sustainable supplies of cotton?

18th November 2015

Related Topics

Related tags

  • Scarcity ,
  • Natural resources


Geraldine Badura

Gemma Cranston highlights work to support the clothing industry consider natural capital.

Last week I had the pleasure of presenting initial findings from a business-led project on natural capital challenges for cotton production at the World Textile Summit in Milan, Italy.

It was a unique one-day event that brought together the world's most influential textile business leaders to debate issues of strategic importance to the global industry. There was much discussion about consumer-driven business responses, investor led interventions and efficiency gains that were ripe for the picking.

I was pleased to also hear speakers expressing frustration that business tends to focus solely upon water and energy use. I couldn't have agreed more and marched the elephant in the room right onto the stage to share my thoughts, focusing upon the need to bring natural capital into decision-making processes. Business is well positioned now to go beyond thinking about resource efficiencies in their direct operations and to consider the raw materials upon which they depend and the natural environment that supports the provision of these materials.

At the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL), we are running a project with a group of businesses on cotton; clearly an important commodity for the textile and apparel industries. To secure sustainable supplies of cotton, these industry leaders are considering natural capital - namely water, biodiversity and soil - at the very beginning of the supply chain where the cotton is grown.

Cotton producers are dependent upon water resources for yield quantity; they need biodiversity to act as a control for pests; and good soil structure and fertility is needed to support growth. It is in the best interest of businesses dependent upon cotton in their supply chains to ensure that cotton production remains economically viable and that the quality and quantity of cotton in supply chains is not threatened.

The challenge facing businesses around cotton is that there is not enough appropriate and consolidated evidence around best management practices for natural capital. We convened a group of leading businesses (including Asda, Kering and Olam International), experts and representatives from sustainable cotton initiatives (such as the Better Cotton Initiative and Cotton Connect) to begin assessing the evidence for cotton-based management interventions on natural capital.

By consolidating the evidence base for natural capital interventions and making it accessible to key decision-makers and influencers within cotton supply chains, more informed decisions can be made to support cotton's sustainable future. The findings of this work will be available in spring 2016. We are also planning a online tool that will help businesses determine the types of interventions that they should be discussing with their supply chains to secure the natural capital needed for a sustainable supply of cotton. It will represent a first step towards evidence-based decision-making for natural capital.

It is wonderful that the apparel industry is starting to engage on issues around natural capital. I'm very much looking forward to seeing more evidence of this and the discussions that will take place at the World Forum on Natural Capital in Edinburgh on 23-24 November, not only on cotton, clothing and collaboration, but on many other sectors that impact and depend upon natural capital. This will be an opportunity for business leaders, government representatives and environmental experts from around the world to explore the strategic importance of natural capital.

I hope that the elephant I introduced in Milan will not be needed and we can instead lose ourselves in the opportunity to bring natural capital to the forefront of business strategies.


Subscribe to IEMA's newsletters to receive timely articles, expert opinions, event announcements, and much more, directly in your inbox.

Transform articles

SBTi clarifies that ‘no change has been made’ to its stance on offsetting

The Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) has issued a statement clarifying that no changes have been made to its stance on offsetting scope 3 emissions following a backlash.

16th April 2024

Read more

While there is no silver bullet for tackling climate change and social injustice, there is one controversial solution: the abolition of the super-rich. Chris Seekings explains more

4th April 2024

Read more

One of the world’s most influential management thinkers, Andrew Winston sees many reasons for hope as pessimism looms large in sustainability. Huw Morris reports

4th April 2024

Read more

Alex Veitch from the British Chambers of Commerce and IEMA’s Ben Goodwin discuss with Chris Seekings how to unlock the potential of UK businesses

4th April 2024

Read more

Regulatory gaps between the EU and UK are beginning to appear, warns Neil Howe in this edition’s environmental legislation round-up

4th April 2024

Read more

Five of the latest books on the environment and sustainability

3rd April 2024

Read more

Ben Goodwin reflects on policy, practice and advocacy over the past year

2nd April 2024

Read more

In 2020, IEMA and the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries (IFoA) jointly wrote and published A User Guide to Climate-Related Financial Disclosures. This has now been updated to include three key developments in the field.

2nd April 2024

Read more

Media enquires

Looking for an expert to speak at an event or comment on an item in the news?

Find an expert

IEMA Cookie Notice

Clicking the ‘Accept all’ button means you are accepting analytics and third-party cookies. Our website uses necessary cookies which are required in order to make our website work. In addition to these, we use analytics and third-party cookies to optimise site functionality and give you the best possible experience. To control which cookies are set, click ‘Settings’. To learn more about cookies, how we use them on our website and how to change your cookie settings please view our cookie policy.

Manage cookie settings

Our use of cookies

You can learn more detailed information in our cookie policy.

Some cookies are essential, but non-essential cookies help us to improve the experience on our site by providing insights into how the site is being used. To maintain privacy management, this relies on cookie identifiers. Resetting or deleting your browser cookies will reset these preferences.

Essential cookies

These are cookies that are required for the operation of our website. They include, for example, cookies that enable you to log into secure areas of our website.

Analytics cookies

These cookies allow us to recognise and count the number of visitors to our website and to see how visitors move around our website when they are using it. This helps us to improve the way our website works.

Advertising cookies

These cookies allow us to tailor advertising to you based on your interests. If you do not accept these cookies, you will still see adverts, but these will be more generic.

Save and close