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New System Offers Brands Data on Sustainable Cotton-Growing Practices

The US Cotton Trust Protocol provides measured and verified data about US cotton; which allows fashion and textile brands and retailers to track annual progress toward their targets, and help them tell their sustainability stories.

When it comes to selecting clothing and home goods, shoppers are demanding that brands and retailers do more than simply say they are committed to environmental standards — they must show they are taking measurable action to reduce their impact. As the saying goes, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t prove it; and if you can’t prove it, you can’t improve it.”

The need for data to demonstrate impact holds true across all sectors; though it is particularly crucial for textile fibers such as cotton, for which many different systems already exist. In response to this growing demand, the US Cotton Trust Protocol was designed to prove the sustainability progress of US-grown cotton.

According to a recent Eurobarometer survey, 80 percent of EU citizens said they want large companies to do more when it comes to protecting the environment. European regulators agree — and measures to improve the environmental footprint of apparel will feature heavily in the European Commission’s upcoming textile strategy. At the same time, 81 percent of the Eurobarometer respondents remain skeptical of clothing brands and retailers when they claim that their products are environmentally friendly.

“There are a lot of claims out there, so consumer trust in a brand is the most important factor for the consumer to continue to spend their money in your store,” said Joe Little, Head of Technical & Sustainability at Tesco and Trust Protocol board member. “It’s crucial that we are able to provide measurable and independently verified results to prove we are doing what we say we are doing.”

The Trust Protocol provides measured and verified data about US cotton; which allows fashion and textile brands and retailers to track annual progress toward their targets, and help them tell their sustainability stories.

“While many brands and retailers are already working with a range of sustainable cotton-sourcing programs, we saw a place to provide something that wasn’t available to brands — data gathered from the cotton growers themselves.” — Ken Burton, executive director of the US Cotton Trust Protocol

Brands and retailers that join the Trust Protocol will receive year-over-year aggregate data from growers through extensive questionnaires and the FieldPrint calculator, provided by Field to Market: The Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture. These tools will help provide in-depth sustainability analytics to help companies identify the innovations growers are using to improve their sustainability practices.

To meet consumers’ skepticism head-on, the Trust Protocol has also ensured that its data is verified by an independent third party: The Trust Protocol has partnered with Control Union Certifications North America to implement an on-site verification program, to insure that the metrics that brand and retailers receive are accurate.

The system has already been approved by Textile Exchange as one which results in improved environmental outcomes. Trust Protocol cotton has been named as one of just 36 preferred fibers and materials that more than 170 participating brands and retailers can select from, as part of Textile Exchange’s Material Change Index.

By backing up comprehensive sustainability metrics with intensive and independent third-party verification, the Trust Protocol allows brands and retailers who sign on to confidently back up their sustainability claims. However, the goal is not to simply gather data — it’s to improve upon it.

“The Trust Protocol is just getting started,” Burton said. “As we grow and learn more from our brand members, we will be able to provide them with more customized data that gets them exactly what they need to improve their sustainability story.”

The Trust Protocol will support US cotton growers in meeting 2025 sustainable growing goals — that include a 13 percent decrease in land use, a 50 percent cut in soil loss, an 18 percent decline in water use, a 15 percent decline in energy use, a 39 percent cut in greenhouse gas emissions and a 30 percent increase in soil carbon.

The Trust Protocol launched in summer 2020, with roughly 300 growers who participated in the pilot growing season.

To find out how you can join the Trust Protocol, visit TrustUScotton.org.

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