What is ‘Mass-Balance’ traceability? It seems like a way of allowing industry to avoid taking real action, and even misleading consumers.
For those unfamiliar with the notion of Mass Balance, an easy way to visualize the concept is your bank account. Imagine you sell your used car for €2000 in cash. You take the cash to the bank. The bank verifies the amount of your deposit and they use their systems to ensure your account is credited. When you return to the bank to withdraw cash they do not give you back the same bills that you deposited, but their systems ensure that the ‘mass received in equals the mass they can pay out’, and your personal account remains in balance.
In our context, Mass-Balance is a way of encouraging supply chain users of Better Cotton to buy and use more of it in a very cost efficient manner, as it does not require (costly) physical segregation of the Better Cotton fibre along the supply chain. In a nut shell, our system records in a secure manner how much ‘Better Cotton’ is purchased by any user in the supply chain. This actual cotton can then be mixed with or substituted for conventional cotton to satisfy contracts. However, the supply chain actor can only claim to sell the amount of Better Cotton that has been purchased from the previous step in the chain. In other words, the ‘mass’ sold cannot exceed the ‘mass’ purchased. The ‘mass balance’ is assured via centrally controlled transaction monitoring on the Better Cotton Traceability System. Moreover, we have very clear rules that define the extent to which this substitution is allowed and help supply chain actors make credible claims about the Better Cotton they use. These are called our Chain of Custody Guidelines.
In this current expansion phase for Better Cotton, it is important to recognise the complexity of the textile supply chain, and allow flexibility that facilitates rapid uptake of Better Cotton (rather than requiring physical segregation and tracking every bale of Better Cotton throughout the entire chain).
There are no legal norms governing communication ‘claims’ linked to mass-balance. However, there are well-established processes recommended by ISEAL, an international body that publishes codes of good practice to ensure consumers are not confused or misled by these claims. BCI adheres to these recommended communication practices in their entirety. Since we can’t say with certainty (using mass-balance) that Better Cotton yarn is physically in a specific end product, we don’t allow our Brand Members to state so either. We can say with certainty, however, that a known mass of Better Cotton entered and exited the supply chain, and that farmers and planet have benefited from its production. To reflect this, we only allow our Members to use our logo on an end product with a claim that demonstrates their support and commitment to BCI. We do not allow labeling that suggests the content of Better Cotton in the product.
Though it is important for us as consumers to know where our cotton comes from, it is even more important to know that farmers, the environment and the industry as a whole benefited from its cultivation at scale – a claim we can make without (costly) physical traceability thanks to Mass Balance traceability.