It’s been nearly a year since Target announced its commitments around responsible sourcing and sustainable products, and since then, we’ve shared a closer look at our goals and progress in several areas, including forest products, chemicals, packaging, and eliminating forced labor. We’ve also reported some initial results in our latest corporate responsibility report.
Today, we’re taking our next step forward—setting a goal to source 100% sustainable cotton by 2022 for our owned and exclusive national brands in apparel, home and essentials, and introducing a new policy to help guide the way.
Why the focus on cotton? It’s a big deal for Target’s business. Cotton is used in many of our products, and we’re one of the largest users in the U.S. And while cotton farming plays a major role in the economic well-being of communities around the world, the supply chain is notoriously complex. So we hope to use our size, scale and influence to help the cotton industry tackle some major environmental and social challenges, while growing our investment in transparent and traceable sources.
It’s going to be a big job—and the tricky part is, there’s no industry standard definition for “sustainable cotton” yet. So we’ve formed our definition around a few important pillars: To us, sustainable production uses water and chemicals as efficiently as possible, with methods that support soil health, and promotes ethical working conditions.
To land on that definition, our teams had to dig in and learn as much as they could about how cotton is grown around the world. That’s what Lalit Toshniwal, a principal fabric engineer on our product design team, and his colleagues have been doing over the past few years. We sat down with him to hear more about it.
Tell us about your travels. What have you learned on your trips?
We visited farms in India and Africa for a closer look at the different methods they use. There’s a very wide range, from small farms growing cotton in co-ops, to larger farms that use more commercial practices. We also toured farms in the U.S., which tend to be much larger and have some of the most remarkable modernized equipment and practices.
It was eye-opening to see how access to data and technology, and support from government and local organizations to use sustainable practices, contributes to much better farming conditions all around. But that’s far from the norm, so we’re putting our new goal in place to help address some of the biggest obstacles.
What are some of the issues Target hopes to help cotton producers tackle?
Based on what we learned, we zeroed in on four major issues we want to help them address:
- Using water as efficiently as possible—especially important in areas where clean water is scarce;
- Using chemicals and other inputs as efficiently as possible;
- Improving soil health on the land where they farm; and
- Promoting ethical working conditions—making sure no forced labor is used during the process.
Not only are these areas of focus important to the cotton industry, but they also ladder up to several of Target’s existing goals around water, chemicals and forced labor.
How will Target’s goal help to improve the cotton farming industry?
We think Target’s efforts will help improve the industry in three big ways: First, we’ll work with vendors to map our supply chains and make them more transparent to understand where and how cotton is grown.
Second, we’ll rely on programs such as Better Cotton Initiative, Organic and Cotton LEADS, which we feel can best help us address the challenges that fall under our definition of sustainable cotton production.
And third, we’ll push ourselves and industry partners to keep improving and supporting technological developments within cotton farming. One example is our recent partnership with CASIS and the International Space Station to catalyze technological advancements in cotton farming.
We know that Target’s decisions have the potential to impact millions of people around the globe, from the people who create our products to the families they support and the communities where they live, while also improving the planet. And our cotton goal will support our work to ensure the products we deliver to Target guests are made ethically and responsibly.