The Challenge 

Cotton is one of the world’s leading commodities. It represents approximately 30% of all fibre used in the textile industry and its production takes up more than 2% of total arable land. Grown in more than 80 countries, including some of the world’s poorest economies, cotton production supports the livelihoods of over 350 million people. Despite its importance to the global economy, however, the future of cotton is extremely uncertain.

Wherever it’s grown, unless produced according to sustainable practices, cotton production can be associated with significant social, environmental and economic impacts, including over-consumption of water, inappropriate or excessive use of pesticides and fertilisers, low incomes of smallholder farmers and soil depletion. Additional climate change pressures such as changing rainfall patterns, availability of water, rising temperatures and competition for land, are likely to result in a disruption to the industry’s future supply, adding further pressure on the most vulnerable elements of the value chain - the smallholder farmers and the land.

And yet, despite the ‘decade of delivery’ on the Sustainable Development Goals being well underway, there is worryingly little coordination across the cotton sector on how to respond, not only to current challenges, but to those looming on the horizon. There is a lack of comprehensive data and joined-up dialogue around the potential impacts of climate change, and how to help farmers and other stakeholders adapt; businesses are unprepared for disruptions to supply; uptake of sustainable cotton still remains low, and mainstream business models perpetuate the root causes of many of these systemic problems.

To survive in an increasingly climate-disrupted world, the cotton system requires significant, in cases radical, change which can only be achieved by a systemic, collaborative approach involving actors across the supply chain.

What’s the sustainable cotton solution?

Cotton 2040 is a platform which aims to accelerate progress and maximise the impact of existing sustainable cotton initiatives, bringing together leading international brands and retailers, sustainable cotton standards, and other stakeholders across the value chain. 

Facilitated by Forum for the Future, with funding support from Laudes Foundation, the platform envisages a sustainable global cotton industry,

  • which is resilient in a changing climate;
  • which uses business models that support sustainable production and livelihoods; and
  • where sustainably produced cotton is the norm.

What next?

In 2020-2022, Cotton 2040 will focus on delivering three interconnected, sequenced workstreams with the biggest potential to drive a systemic shift to mainstream sustainable cotton. Find out more.

Planning for climate adaptation

Creating sector-wide collaborative action to understand and adapt to the changing climate. Working with cotton producers, brands and retailers and industry initiatives, we will develop a common understanding across the cotton system as to how climate change is likely to impact key stakeholders and regions, and agree on a shared set of priorities for action across the cotton sector. This work is supported by Acclimatise.

Contact Hannah Pathak to find out more.

Sourcing sustainable cotton

Driving the uptake of sustainable cotton with brands and​ retailers, by helping apparel industry professionals develop and implement sourcing strategies across multiple cotton standards such as organic, Fairtrade, the Better Cotton Initiative and others, through the CottonUP guide, bespoke education and capacity building programmes. We will create a robust business case for sustainable cotton drawing on perspectives from investors and consumers, and continue to update and improve the CottonUP guide. Supporting partners include Anthesis and The Global Alliance for Sustainable Supply Chain.

Contact Elizabeth Rich to find out more or watch a recording of our introductory CottonUP webinar.

Developing sustainable business models

Securing future supply of cotton will require a move towards alternative business models which ensure fairer distribution of value and risk between stakeholders and enable the regeneration of land and resources. Working with stakeholders from across the cotton value chain, we will identify a range of sustainable business models or market-based mechanisms that meet the criteria of a viable, future-ready cotton value chain. In collaboration, we will then develop and pilot these business models and facilitate routes to scale. 

Louise Rezler to find out more.

Aligning sustainability impact metrics

Over 2019-2020, Cotton 2040 has continued its work with sustainable cotton standards, programmes and codes on pathways towards greater alignment of sustainable cotton impact metrics. In September 2020, all partners published a jointly-signed commitment statement, confirming their intention that the Delta Indicator Framework will become a credible and shared framework to guide impact measurement and reporting of core sustainability issues of relevance to the cotton sector. Creating more credible, consistent and comparable data will help brands and retailers to more confidently track the impact of their sustainable cotton sourcing decisions. If your organisation has an interest in sustainable cotton you are invited to engage with the Delta Project as it moves forward.

Find out more about the Impacts Alignment workstream here or contact Charlene Collison. You can also watch the recording of a webinar hosted by the Cotton 2040 and Project Delta teams in December 2020. 

Get involved

The window for us to create a resilient and sustainable cotton sector is shrinking fast. Get involved today and join our dynamic collaboration - Cotton 2040 - to benefit from being part of a network that shares collective expertise and influence. 

Each partner involved in Cotton 2040 has joined in recognition that no one organisation or company can solve the sector’s challenges alone. But we need many more to join - and more funding to make the impact that is needed.

We are now inviting expressions of interest and commitment from organisations wishing to contribute to one or more of these workstreams in 2021 and beyond. 

Find out more
Read more about Cotton 2040’s three-year programme and how you can get involved as a partner. You can also access a recording of this presentation on YouTube.

Get in touch
Future-proof your business - join us in finding sustainable solutions for the apparel sector.

Partner benefits

If you are a leading business, civil society or government organisation, by joining, you will:

  • Become a member of a powerful collaboration geared to deliver change and build stronger relationships
  • Demonstrate sector leadership and ambition on a critical supply chain challenge
  • Contribute to and benefit from specific workstream deliverables e.g. a climate impacts map, business case for investors, capacity building for sourcing teams, new business model pilot
  • Get a chance to share expertise and learn from others
  • Become part of Forum‘s growing network of organisations driving wider change
  • Have the ability to inform the strategy and direction of the work.

Supporting partners to date




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