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Engaging Post-Pandemic Demand Trends

69% of Consumers Focus on More Sustainable Products

by Jayci Bishop

Brands and retailers statisticsAs a cotton grower, you know all too well how supply and demand play a role in the cotton market. You have also been working each year to grow profitable crops while conserving natural resources. Your farm is sustainable, and the proof is in the numbers. 

“United States cotton growers have been committed to continuous improvement for decades,” said Gary Adams, CEO of the National Cotton Council of America. “Over the past 35 years, U.S. cotton production has used 79% less water and 54% less energy, reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 40%, all while reducing land use by 49%. The adoption of practices such as minimal tillage, GPS and sensor-driven precision agriculture, and the growing of winter cover crops have further improved soil health, reducing loss and erosion by 37% per acre and increasing soil carbon levels.” 

Here are the questions on everyone’s minds. As a farmer, you have been following sustainable principles for years, and you know your practices are what is best for the land. Why is it so important to tell that story now? Why does it matter if you participate in a sustainability program? The answer is simple – demand. As consumers prioritize more environmentally friendly products, brands and retailers are increasingly looking to source sustainable cotton. 

“Brands and retailers are experiencing a period of even greater supply chain scrutiny and a growing demand for transparency and traceability,” said Adams. “Consumers are increasingly looking for sustainable products and are requesting more from their favorite labels.” 

Adams shared that the U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol worked with the Economist Intelligence Unit last year to produce a report on key decision-makers at leading brands’ thinking about sustainability. The research found that as many as 60% of respondents surveyed identified sustainability as one of the top two strategic objectives, losing out only to customer experience. A year into the pandemic, the same group indicated that 69% of brands and retailers believed that the pandemic had emphasized the importance of environmentally friendly products to consumers. 

“Brands and retailers recognize a genuine need to act now on sustainability initiatives, and many have already implemented strategies to cut emissions and have set ambitious targets to work toward and measure against,” Adams said. 

The demand for sustainable cotton is there, so what is the U.S. cotton industry doing to meet the demand and secure a market for the crop you grow? 

“There are growing expectations for brands and retailers to not only 

provide goods that have highly transparent supply chains and a robust sustainability profile but to provide evidence of this too,” Adams said. “The Trust Protocol recognized that brands and retailers needed access to environmental and social standards and a system they could trust when sourcing raw materials.” 

The U.S. cotton industry is betting big that the U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol is the answer. The program was launched in 2020 and is setting a new standard in more sustainably grown cotton. The program is aligned with the 2025 U.S. National Goals for continuous improvement, something brands, retailers, and consumers watch closely. 

“The U.S. cotton industry traditionally led the way in innovation, quality, and responsible stewardship of the land,” Adams said. “But evolving attitudes regarding sustainability have led to the establishment of preferred fiber lists among almost all brands and retailers. Simply put, we need a program that better evidences our efforts and ensures U.S. cotton can be on those lists so brands and retailers around the world can confidently source U.S. cotton.” 

The U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol enables growers to prove sustainable stewardship, better measure and verify their sustainability practices, and helps drive a commitment to continuous improvement. 

“The Trust Protocol was developed to deliver a better future for U.S. cotton, ensuring it contributes to the protection and preservation of the planet, using the most sustainable and responsible techniques. At the same time, we wanted to meet the needs of brands and retailers in the fashion and textile industries, which are increasingly expected to show the sourcing data for their products,” Adams said. “The Trust Protocol provides access to more sustainably grown cotton for brands and retailers and assurances their consumers can have confidence in.” 

Not only does the Trust Protocol promote sustainable cotton, but it also helps cotton prevail against synthetic fibers. 

“All of these achievements bring awareness that cotton, a natural fiber that is grown in the U.S., is more sustainably grown,” Adams said. “Synthetic fibers, which are polymer-based fibers made from chemical polymers not found in nature, and unlike natural fibers, are mainly insoluble. Trust Protocol cotton is a responsible choice. Trust Protocol growers contribute by establishing measurable targets for improved environmental performance and resource utilization, improving resource efficiency, and increasing supply chain transparency.” 

The industry is proud to support the Trust Protocol. Carlos Garcia, PCCA Export Sales Manager, said having grower participation has helped him market grower-owners’ cotton. 

“As long as we have a supply of sustainability-verified cotton, then PCCA can participate in all inquiries, and we won’t be shut out from being able to market our grower-owners’ cotton to these specific mills,” Garcia said. “We have long-standing relationships with a lot of A1 customers, and normally these are mills that come to us and ask for BCI or U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol cotton, and these are the customers we want to continue to do business with.” 

With a few minutes of your time, you can complete enrollment in the Trust Protocol and help promote U.S. cotton. 

“I think most producers know that how they farm is already one of the most, if not the most, sustainable ways of farming in the world,” Garcia said. “All we have to do now is put it down on paper to document that what we do, year-after-year, allows us to take great strides in doing more with less. This practice of farming fits perfectly with what the industry wants, and we want to ensure that they can come and buy our cotton so they can use the data we provide to show that their products are made sustainably.” 

Instinctively, growers are asking about the financial elements of the Protocol. Participating does require a relatively small amount of time and effort. The other question surrounds a grower’s data privacy. The Protocol’s technology provider, The Seam®, has taken strong measures to ensure the safety and security of individual data. 

Only time will tell the monetary impact, but a market for your cotton and sustainable products for brands and retailers is a win-win for the cotton industry. 

“I think the most important thing for producers to consider when signing up for the U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol is it allows U.S. cotton to continue to be the fiber of choice when mills go to buy cotton,” Garcia said. “The Trust Protocol allows the textile industry to tell our cotton producers’ sustainability story to the end-user, and it keeps us at the front of the line when mills make their purchasing decisions.” 

Don’t forget to sign up to become a U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol member and help set a new standard for more sustainably grown cotton. 

Enrolling to become a member of the U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol is a simple four-step process. It will only take a small amount of your time, and you will be on your way to ensuring the sustainability of U.S. cotton. 

  • Start by visiting trustuscotton.org and selecting the join now button at the top of the page. 
  • It will begin to assess your sustainable practices. For members re-enrolling, these questions will be more limited. 
  • You should then complete your Field to Market assessment, allowing you to receive data assessing and comparing your practices to critical markets in your region, state, and even nation. 
  • Lastly, the U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol asks you to commit to the continuous improvements and adjustments they have developed. You must also confirm your commitment to take the next steps (having your data verified by second and third parties). Continuing to stay committed and practice responsibly will assist in setting a new standard for sustainably grown cotton. 

Consumers want sustainable and responsible products. Be a part of the movement to ensure that high-quality U.S. cotton is at the forefront of consumers’ minds. 

If you have any questions about the U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol, contact growers@trustcotton.org. 

U.S. cotton industry sustainability targets