Better Cotton Releases Our First Study on GHG Emissions

A new report published on 15 October 2021 has revealed the first-ever quantification of global greenhouse gas emissions of Better Cotton and comparable production. The report, conducted by Anthesis Group and commissioned by Better Cotton in 2021, found significantly lower emissions from Better Cotton licensed farmers’ cotton production.

Anthesis analysed more than 200,000 farm assessments from three seasons (2015-16 to 2017-18) and used the Cool Farm Tool as the GHG emissions calculation engine. The primary data provided by Better Cotton covered input use and types, farm sizes, production and approximate geographical locations, while some information was filled via desk research where primary data was not available.

The aims of this study were two-fold. Firstly, we wanted to understand if Better Cotton farmers have produced lower emissions while growing cotton than comparable non-Better Cotton farmers. Secondly, we wanted to quantify emissions for producers contributing 80% of Better Cotton global production and use this baseline to set a global emissions reductions target for 2030.

Results from our comparative analysis

To understand if Better Cotton farmers have produced lower emissions while growing cotton than comparable non-Better Cotton farmers, comparison data was provided by Better Cotton. Each season its partners collect and report data from farmers cultivating cotton in the same geographic areas using same or similar technologies, but who are not yet participating in the Better Cotton programme. The study found that on average Better Cotton production had a 19% lower emissions intensity per tonne lint than comparison production across China, India, Pakistan, Tajikistan and Turkey.

Over half of the difference in emissions performance between Better Cotton and comparison production was due to difference in emissions from fertiliser production. A further 28% of the difference was because of emissions from irrigation. 

On average Better Cotton production had a 19% lower emissions intensity per tonne lint than comparison production across China, India, Pakistan, Tajikistan and Turkey.

This will enable emissions reduction strategies across Better Cotton’s and its partners’ major production areas to implement meaningful and measurable climate change mitigation actions.

Analysis that informs Better Cotton’s 2030 Strategy

We aim to make, and demonstrate, positive real-world change for the climate. This means having a baseline and measuring change over time. To help inform our forthcoming 2030 strategy and associated global target on emissions reduction, we requested a separate piece of analysis to assess emissions from Better Cotton (or recognised equivalent) production constituting over 80% of licensed Better Cotton’s global production across Brazil, India, Pakistan, China and the US. The analysis breaks down emissions drivers for each state or province per country. This will enable emissions reduction strategies across Better Cotton’s and its partners’ major production areas to implement meaningful and measurable climate change mitigation actions.

The study found production had average annual GHG emissions of 8.74 million tonnes carbon dioxide equivalents to produce 2.98 million tonnes lint – equating to 2.93 tonnes carbon dioxide equivalents per tonne lint produced. Unsurprisingly, the largest emissions hotspot was found to be fertiliser production, which accounted for 47% of total emissions from Better Cotton production. Irrigation and fertiliser application were also found to be significant drivers of emissions.

Better Cotton’s next steps on GHG Emissions

Set a 2030 Target

  • Better Cotton will set a 2030 target on GHG emissions reduction. This will be informed by climate science and the collective ambition of the apparel and textile sector, including notably the UNFCCC Fashion Charter of which Better Cotton is a member.
  • Better Cotton’s emissions target will sit within our comprehensive climate change strategy currently under development.
Photo Credit: BCI/Vibhor Yadav

Take Action Towards the Target

  • Given their sizable contribution to total emissions, reductions in the use of synthetic fertilisers and irrigation can unlock significant reductions in emissions. Efficiency improvements through better yields will also contribute to reducing emissions intensity, i.e. GHGs emitted per tonne of cotton grown.
  • The adoption of management practices such as cover cropping, mulching, no/reduced tillage and application of organic manures offer significant opportunities to reduce emissions through carbon sequestration. These practices can simultaneously have a positive impact on conserving soil moisture and enhancing soil health.
  • Galvanising collective action where it matters most will also support emissions reductions – this includes identifying hotspots, leveraging new resources and advocating for change outside Better Cotton’s direct scope (e.g. approximately 10% of Better Cotton emissions to produce cotton lint comes from ginning. If half the ginning operations were supported to transition away from fossil fuel-powered energy to renewables, Better Cotton emissions would reduce by 5%).

Photo Credit: BCI/Morgan Ferrar.

Monitor & Report Against the Target

  • Better Cotton is partnering on a project led by the Gold Standard, which will provide guidance and credibility to Better Cotton’s emissions quantification method. We are testing the Cool Farm Tool as a scientific, credible and scalable approach to help us monitor change in emissions over time.
  • The collection of additional data from Better Cotton farmers and projects will enable refinement of the emissions quantification process in subsequent years.

Download the report below and access our recent Better Cotton Update on Measuring and Reporting Greenhouse Gas Emissions Webinar and presentation slides to find more details from the report.

Learn more about Better Cotton’s work on Greenhouse Gas Emissions.

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World Cotton Day – A Message from Better Cotton’s CEO

Alan McClay Headshot
Alan McClay, Better Cotton CEO

Today, on World Cotton Day, we are happy to be celebrating the farming communities around the world that provide us with this essential natural fibre.

The social and environmental challenges we came together to address in 2005, when Better Cotton was founded, are even more urgent today, and two of those challenges — climate change and gender equality — stand to be the key issues of our time. But there are also clear actions we can take to solve them. 

When we look at climate change, we see the scale of the task ahead. At Better Cotton, we are drawing up our own climate change strategy to help farmers deal with these painful effects. Importantly, the strategy will also address the cotton sector’s contribution to climate change, which The Carbon Trust estimates at 220 million tonnes of CO2 emissions per year. The good news is that the technologies and practices to address these issues are already there — we only need to put them in place.

Cotton and climate change – an illustration from India

Photo Credit: BCI/Florian Lang Location: Surendranagar, Gujarat, India. 2018. Description: BCI Lead Farmer Vinodbhai Patel (48) in his field. While many farmers are burning the weed stubble, which is left on the field, Vinoodbhai is leaving the remaining stalks. The stalks will later get ploughed into the earth to increase the biomass in the soil.

At Better Cotton, we’ve witnessed the disruption that climate change brings first-hand. In Gujarat, India, Better Cotton Farmer Vinodbhai Patel struggled for years with low, irregular rainfall, poor soil quality and pest infestations on his cotton farm in the village of Haripar. But without access to knowledge, resources or capital, he, along with many other smallholder farmers in his region, relied partially on government subsidies for conventional fertilisers, as well as credit from local shopkeepers to buy traditional agro-chemical products. Over time, these products only degraded the soil further, making it harder to grow healthy plants.

Vinodbhai now uses exclusively biological fertilisers and pesticides to produce cotton on his six-hectare farm — and he is encouraging his peers to do the same. By managing insect-pests using ingredients sourced from nature — at no cost to him — and planting his cotton plants more densely, by 2018, he had reduced his pesticide costs by 80% compared to the 2015-2016 growing season, while increasing his overall production by over 100% and his profit by 200%.  

The potential for change becomes even greater when we factor women into the equation. There’s mounting evidence that shows the relationship between gender equality and climate change adaptation. In other words, we are seeing that when women’s voices are elevated, they make decisions that benefit everyone, including driving the adoption of more sustainable practices.

Gender Equality – an illustration from Pakistan

Photo Credit: BCI/Khaula Jamil. Location: Vehari District, Punjab, Pakistan, 2018. Description: Almas Parveen, BCI Farmer and Field Facilitator, delivering a BCI training session to BCI Farmers and Farm-workers in the same Learning Group (LG). Almas is discussing how to select the correct cotton seed.

Almas Parveen, a cotton farmer in the Vehari district of Punjab, Pakistan is familiar with these struggles. In her corner of rural Pakistan, entrenched gender roles mean women often have little opportunity to influence farming practices or business decisions, and female cotton workers are often restricted to low paid, manual tasks, with less job security than men.

Almas, however, was always determined to overcome these norms. Since 2009, she’s been running her family’s nine-hectare cotton farm herself. While that alone was remarkable, her motivation didn’t stop there. With support from our Implementing Partner in Pakistan, Almas became a Better Cotton Field Facilitator to enable other farmers — both men and women — to learn and benefit from sustainable farming techniques. At first, Almas’ faced opposition from members of her community, but in time, the farmers’ perceptions changed as her technical knowledge and sound advice resulted in tangible benefits on their farms. In 2018, Almas increased her yields by 18% and her profits by 23% compared to the previous year. She also achieved a 35% reduction in pesticide use. In the 2017-18 season, the average Better Cotton Farmer in Pakistan increased their yields by 15%, and reduced their pesticide use by 17%, in comparison to non-Better Cotton Farmers.

The issues of climate change and gender equality serve as powerful lenses with which to view the current state of the cotton sector. They show us that our vision of a sustainable world, where cotton farmers and workers know how to cope — with threats to the environment, low productivity and even limiting societal norms — is within reach. They also show us that a new generation of cotton farming communities will be able to make a decent living, have a strong voice in the supply chain and meet growing consumer demand for more sustainable cotton. 

The bottom line is that transforming the cotton sector is not the work of one organisation alone. So, on this World Cotton Day, as we all take this time to listen and learn from each other, reflecting on the importance and role of cotton around the world, I’d like to encourage us to band together and leverage our resources and networks.

Together, we can deepen our impact and catalyse systemic change. Together, we can make the transformation to a sustainable cotton sector — and world — a reality.

Alan McClay

CEO, Better Cotton

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Better Cotton Appears in Ecotextile News Addressing Climate Change

On 4 October 2021, Ecotextile News published “Can cotton cool climate change?”, exploring the role cotton growing plays in climate change. The article looks closely at Better Cotton’s climate strategy and draws from an interview with Lena Staafgard, COO, and Chelsea Reinhardt, Director of Standards and Assurance, to understand how we plan to impact climate change mitigation and adaptation.

Accelerating the pace of change

With Better Cotton’s recent study on GHG emissions commissioned with Anthesis and our work with Cotton 2040, we now have better information to identify the areas contributing most to emissions and which regions will be most affected by climate change. Our existing Standard and programmes implemented on-the-ground by partners and farmers across the Better Cotton network currently address these issue areas. But we need to act fast to build on what already exists to deepen our impact.

What we are looking to do really is to refine our focus and accelerate the pace of change, to have a deeper impact in those particular areas that are the big drivers of emissions.

– Chelsea Reinhardt, Director of Standards and Assurance

Collaborating across the cotton sector

The recent Cotton 2040 study shows that half of all cotton growing areas are at high risk of extreme weather conditions in the coming decades, and we have the opportunity to take action in these regions with our potential to convene relevant stakeholders. There are challenges in providing solutions that are relevant to localised conditions, so we are using our nuanced understanding of these issues and are in a position to address them with appropriate strategies through the network we have. Ensuring we bring smallholder and large farm contexts into our approach is important.

We should be able to get there, but it’s going to be difficult and it’s going to require a lot of collaboration, pulling in the technology and the knowledge we have at the large farms and finding ways of making it available at smallholder level where so much of the world’s agriculture takes place.

Lena Staafgard, COO

Better Cotton is in a position where we have the resources and network to collaborate towards change. Join our upcoming Member-Only Webinar to learn more about Better Cotton’s 2030 Strategy on Climate Change.

Read the full Ecotextile News article, “Can cotton cool climate change?”

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Better Cotton Onboards Recommendations from the Task Force on Forced Labour and Decent Work

In April 2020, BCI formed the Task Force on Forced Labour and Decent Work to review the current global Better Cotton Standard System. The aim of the Task Force was to highlight gaps and develop recommendations to improve the effectiveness of this system in identifying, preventing, mitigating and remediating forced labour risks. The group was comprised of experts from civil society, retailers and brands, and responsible sourcing consultancies.

The Task Force worked to review current BCI systems, discuss key issues and gaps, and develop proposed recommendations. The process included extensive consultations with a wider group of stakeholders, and culminated in a comprehensive report, published in October 2020 and available in full on the BCI website.

The BCI Leadership Team and Council have now completed a full review of the report’s findings, producing a formal response that also summarises the work that BCI has already carried out as of January 2021. The response outlines BCI’s expected short, mid, and long-term priorities to strengthen our systems on forced labour and decent work.

Alan McClay, CEO of BCI said, ”Decent work and forced labour are crucial sustainability issues within cotton production. At BCI we are committed to strengthening further our capabilities on these issues. As we launch our 2030 strategy, the Task Force recommendations help us do that. The work to implement these recommendations is already underway.”

The response welcomes the comprehensive findings of the Task Force and its identification of multiple areas where BCI will continue to focus more resources and effort. The Task Force has recognised the potential that BCI has – as a truly global network of partners – to enact change across millions of cotton farmers and workers.

The response also recognises the importance of embedding BCI’s forced labour and decent work efforts within the broader BCI strategy. This is reflected in BCI’s 2030 strategy, which includes a strong focus on decent work. We expect that work in some of these recommendation areas will span most of the next decade and even beyond.

BCI will use a phased approach to implement the activities outlined in the plan, tackling quick wins and high-priority areas promptly, whilst maintaining a long-term vision on some of the more challenging work areas that will require dedicated funding and resources. This approach will be informed by risk assessment; focusing first on areas where forced labour risks are high and BCI has a significant footprint.

BCI will look to actively collaborate with others on some of these key challenges, such as effective tools for farm workers to raise grievances. These challenges are faced across the agricultural sector, and BCI expects to work not only with local experts and grassroots organisations, but also with other initiatives to share learnings and pioneer new tools.

BCI has lost no time getting started on some of the key recommendations of the task force and will bring these into effect in time for the next season, beginning in March in the Northern Hemisphere. The BCI Leadership team is extremely grateful to the Task Force members for dedicating their time and expertise to help BCI examine our current approach and forge a path forward to transform our forced labour and decent work capabilities.

A summary of BCI’s plan to onboard the Task Force’s recommendations is available on the BCI website and can be found here.

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Task Force on Forced Labour and Decent Work Finalises Key Findings and Recommendations

Cotton is grown in areas of the world with formidable challenges, both environmental and social. BCI’s mission dictates that we operate in many of these regions, and therefore, we must manage complex, socio-political and economic conditions in order to deliver support and interventions where they will have the most impact. In order to adapt and respond to decent work and forced labour challenges, in particular, BCI is actively engaged in dialogue on these issues with subject matter experts and key stakeholders, including civil society organisations, retailers and brands, and ethical supply chains consultants.

To that end and in the spirit of our commitment to continuous improvement, BCI formed the Task Force on Forced Labour and Decent Work in April 2020 to review the current Better Cotton Standard System globally. The aim of the Task Force was to highlight gaps and develop recommendations to improve the effectiveness of this system in identifying, preventing, mitigating and remediating forced labour risks. The group was comprised of 12 experts representing civil society, retailers and brands, and ethical supply chain consultancies. The Task Force worked virtually for six months to review current BCI systems, discuss key issues and gaps, and develop proposed recommendations. The process included extensive consultations with a wider group of retailers and brands, field-level Implementing Partners and worker-focused organisations, among others. Their work culminated in a comprehensive report that outlines key findings and recommendations.

”It has been a privilege for BCI to be able to work with a world-class group of independent experts,” commented Alan McClay, BCI CEO. ”Their knowledge and experience have enabled us to build a robust foundation on which we shall rebalance our activities with a stronger focus on decent work and forced labour.”

The BCI Council and Management Team are reviewing the report and will carefully consider the Task Force’s findings and recommendations through the lens of BCI’s 2030 strategy. They will prepare a detailed response to the recommendations, which will be shared in January. BCI recognises that strengthening our decent work programme will be a multi-year process and will require additional resources and funding. In the short-term, we will focus on strengthening our forced labour capabilities through capacity building for staff, Implementing Partners and third-party verifiers, enhancing our due diligence for selecting and retaining Implementing Partners, and revising our assurance processes to better identify and mitigate forced labour risks.

In 2021, BCI is also exploring opportunities to pilot a more comprehensive set of decent work activities, including a detailed forced labour risk assessment and civil society engagement tactics, in one or two high priority regions.

BCI would like to express our sincerest gratitude to the Task Force members all of whom volunteered their time and expertise, engaging wholeheartedly in the process. Their efforts have resulted in a thorough and complex analysis of an important area of social sustainability, and of the Better Cotton Standard System, and will serve BCI as we continue striving to create change. We are committed to pioneering innovative approaches to promote decent work conditions in cotton fields for workers and farmers alike, which would not be possible without strong engagement from diverse stakeholders.

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Sustainable Cotton Reaches 22% of Global Production as 2.3 Million Farmers Receive Training on Improved Agricultural Practices

Today, the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) launched its 2019 Annual Report. In the report, BCI shares that Better Cotton – cotton produced by licensed BCI Farmers in line with the initiative’s Better Cotton Principles and Criteria – now accounts for 22% of global cotton production*.

In the 2018-19 cotton season, together with expert on-the-ground Implementing Partners and with support from more than 1,800 members, BCI provided training on more sustainable agricultural practices to 2.3 million cotton farmers – 2.1 million gained a license to sell Better Cotton. This drove the volume of more sustainably produced cotton available on the global market to a new level.

At the opposite end of the supply chain, BCI’s Retailer and Brand Members passed a significant milestoneat the end of 2019, sourcing more than 1.5 million metric tonnes of Better Cotton ¬≠– a record for BCI. That’s a 40% increase on 2018 and sends a clear signal to the market that Better Cotton is becoming a sustainable mainstream commodity. Better Cotton uptake now accounts for 6% of global cotton production.

It is particularly pleasing to share the progress BCI is making, thanks to the concerted efforts of our members, partners and other stakeholders, towards our 2020 targets. With two more cotton seasons (2019-20 and 2020-21) within which to make further advances at field level, we are committed to not only continuing to deliver beneficial change at field level, but also to learning from the experience and adapting to become more effective. We do not yet know how close we will come to our 2020 targets, and we are still assessing how the current Covid-19 pandemic will impact our efforts. But one thing is certain, we have made significant and undeniable progress over the past 10 years, and there are many successes to celebrate.” – Alan McClay, CEO, BCI.

2019 Report Highlights

  • Better Cotton was grown in 23 countries in the 2018-19 cotton season.
  • Licensed BCI Farmers produced 5.6 million metric tonnes of Better Cotton. That is enough cotton to make approximately 8 billion pairs of jeans, a pair each for every person in the world.
  • Better Cotton now accounts for 22% of global cotton production.
  • BCI and its 76 field-level partners delivered training and support to a total of 2.3 million farmers.
  • 2.1 million cotton farmers received a BCI license to sell their cotton as Better Cotton – 99% are smallholders farming on less than 20 hectares.
  • BCI Retailer and Brand Members sourced 1.5 million metric tonnes of cotton as Better Cotton in 2019 – a record volume.
  • Uptake of Better Cotton now accounts for 6% of global cotton production.
  • BCI welcomed more than 400 new members in 2019.
  • By the end of the year, BCI had 1,842 members across five membership categories, a 29% increase on 2018.

Access the interactive BCI 2019 Annual Report to learn more about our successes, challenges and the progress we are making towards our 2020 targets.

*The percentage has been calculated using ICAC’s 2019 global production figures.

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Better Cotton Sets Up Expert Task Force on Forced Labour and Decent Work

The Better Cotton Standard System is a holistic approach to sustainable cotton production which covers all three pillars of sustainability: social, environmental and economic, and addresses the many challenges of cotton production. One of the seven Better Cotton Principles and Criteria directly addresses Decent Work and forced labour specifically. Decent Work is defined as work which offers fair pay, security and equal opportunities for learning and progression, in an environment where people feel safe, respected, and able to express their concerns or negotiate better conditions.

In order to adapt and respond to Decent Work challenges in cotton farming, wherever such challenges may arise, BCI is actively engaged in dialogue on Decent Work and forced labour issues with our stakeholders, including civil society organisations, retailers and brands, and expert organisations.

Task Force on Forced Labour and Decent Work

BCI is currently working to strengthen Better Cotton Principle Six: Decent Work and has set up an expert Task Force on Forced Labour and Decent Work to review selected elements of the Better Cotton Standard System. Based on this review, the Task Force will produce recommendations to improve the effectiveness of the system in identifying, preventing, mitigating and remediating forced labour risks.

Task Force Members

The Task Force on Forced Labour and Decent Work brings together representatives from civil society, retailers, brands and consultancies with a strong expertise in human rights and forced labour issues in supply chains, particularly in the textile sector. The Task Force also draws on the expertise of a project adviser with a background in tackling the risks of child and forced labour in cotton harvests at the International Labour Organization.

Civil Society

  • Patricia Jurewicz, Founder and Vice President | Responsible Sourcing Network
  • Shelly Han, Chief of Staff & Director or Engagement | Fair Labour Association
  • Allison Gill, Cotton Campaign Coordinator | International Labor Rights Forum
  • Isabelle Rogers, Global Cotton Programme Manager | Solidaridad
  • Chloe Cranston, Business and Human Rights Manager | Anti-Slavery International
  • Komala Ramachandra, Senior Researcher | Human Rights Watch

Consultancies / Research Organisations

  • Rosey Hurst, Founder and Director | Impactt
  • Aarti Kapoor, Managing Director | Embode
  • Brett Dodge, Senior Consultant | Ergon

Retailers and Brands

  • Fiona Sadler, Head of Ethical Trade (will temporarily represent M&S) | Lydia Hopton, Ethical Trade Manager | M&S Clothing and Home
  • Aditi Wanchoo, Senior Manager – Development Partnerships Social & Environmental Affairs | adidas
  • Jason Tucker, Director of Labor Performance, Sustainable Manufacturing & Sourcing | Nike

Project Advisors

  • Stephen McClelland, Independent Senior Consultant

Find out more about the Task Force members here.

We will share updates on the progress of the Task Force as more information is available.

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What Does 2019 Have in Store For Better Cotton? A Message from CEO Alan McClay

This year, the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) turns 10 years old.

In this short amount of time, BCI has experienced exceptional growth. Today, the Initiative has more than 1,400 members and works with 60 field-level partners, to reach and train 1.6 million cotton farmers in 23 countries (2016-17 season figures). With our partners, members and stakeholders we have achieved a lot in the past 10 years, but there is a long way to go to ensure global cotton production is better for the people who produce it, better for the environment it grows in and better for the sector’s future.

As BCI heads towards its second decade, the organisation’s focus is firmly fixed on the future and building a strategy to 2030. We are truly a collaborative effort and we continue to work with all of our stakeholders to ensure BCI and the Better Cotton Standard System effectively address cotton production challenges, while meeting the sourcing needs of our members.

Throughout the year we will be publishing a series of articles, with input from key stakeholders who have been influential throughout BCI’s first decade – from partners, to civil society organisations, to retailers and brands. The first article in the series will be published in early March.

We are also turning our attention to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and how BCI and its members can continue to be catalysts for change as part of the global momentum harnessed by the SDGs. Over the last year, we conducted a mapping exercise whereby we compared BCI’s organisational objectives to the 17 Goals and related targets to determine where BCI is driving them in a tangible way. We identified 10 SDGs where BCI is making robust contributions – you can find out more in our new SDG hub.

Additionally, we recognise that the need for BCI Members to communicate about sustainability is growing and evolving, and the Better Cotton Claims Framework must evolve in parallel with these growing market and consumer expectations. At the beginning of the year we launched a review of the framework. Following a period of consultation, the Better Cotton Claims Framework V2.0 will be released in the spring. We are also continuing to refine the monitoring and evaluation of our field-level work in order to facilitate credible communications about the outcomes and impacts of members’ investments in more sustainable cotton production.

We would like to say thank you to all of our members, partners and stakeholders for your continued support, and we look forward to working together as BCI moves into the next chapter.

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