Better Cotton brings people and businesses together across the cotton sector – to deliver a shared vision for the future of sustainable cotton. We focus primarily on supporting farmers on the ground. But it’s vital that we also drive demand for Better Cotton, in order to continue our growth and impact, firmly establishing Better Cotton as a viable commodity for farmers to grow and supporting them to improve their livelihoods.
In this blog series, we speak with three Better Cotton Retailer and Brand Members about the impressive progress they have made in their Better Cotton sourcing and how they are able to make advanced claims to their customers as a result. We’ll discuss how they communicate their Better Cotton progress with consumers in interesting and innovative ways. Second up in the series is George at Asda. Asda is one of the UK’s largest supermarket chains, and its clothing range, George was launched in 1990 – the first supermarket clothing brand in Britain.
Q&A with Jade Snart, Senior Sustainability Manager, George at Asda
If you would prefer to listen to the audio of the Q&A, you can do so below.
The company states that its George clothes are sold in over 560 stores and its online business serves over 800,000 people per week. As part of its ‘George for Good’ campaign, George at Asda has made a commitment to source 100% more sustainable cotton for their own-brand clothing and soft home textile products. They state that they are working with their suppliers to source more sustainable cotton through Better Cotton. In October 2020, the company launched a new sustainability-focused store in Middleton, UK. As well as offering refill stations for other products such as tea and pasta, recycling options, and second-hand clothing options, the store featured messaging about George at Asda’s Better Cotton sourcing commitments. On digital screens above the clothing racks, customers were able to see videos of Better Cotton farmers, while information boxes next to the clothes rack also provided more information on the company’s cotton sourcing approach.
Jade, can you tell us more about your approach to sustainability within George at Asda?
Sustainability has become business as usual for us at George, we set our ‘George for Good’ strategy back in 2018 and it is now part of everyone’s KPI’s to deliver it. Our trading teams have targets to meet in terms of meeting our public commitments on responsibly sourced fibres, and I am pleased to say that over 80% of our shop floor now uses responsibly sourced fibres. For us however, it is more than just the fibres we source, it’s how our products are produced and packaged, what happens to them at the end of life and what impact that might have on the environment. We work with a number of partners to help us deliver our strategy and Better Cotton has become an integral part of everyday sourcing for us.
You’re a relatively new sustainability team and have made a lot of progress in a short period of time. Can you tell us about the challenges you foresaw and how you overcame them to reach the point you’re at today?
The biggest challenge for us was the education piece, it was so important that our colleagues and suppliers understood why we have set the strategy that we have and why playing their part is so important to help us along the way. In the early days we spend time with all of our colleagues and suppliers, including colleagues outside of the trading functions as we believe that if we are to become a truly sustainable business, we need everyone to be on the bus with us too.
Commercially we have come across a few challenges with switching to responsibly sourced fibres along the way, but we took this in bitesize chunks to enable us to move forward with our strategy but without having to pass any of the cost onto our customers. The current focus for us is now moving on to educating our customers to understand what steps we are taking, why we are taking them and how they can also make small changes in their day to day lives that can make a huge difference collectively.
In 2020, you launched your first sustainability store, in Middleton, UK. Can you explain how Better Cotton featured within this store in your communications with customers?
Yes, that’s right, we launched our first ever sustainability store back in October last year, the store was a fabulous opportunity for us to showcase all the work we had been doing in the background but hadn’t been able to share with our customers before. We wanted to use the platform to talk about what responsibly sourced fibres really means and it was important for us to take it as far back as the field where possible. We used story telling boxes and videos of Better Cotton farmers in the field on our digital screens, this was a first for us and the feedback has been brilliant.
Why did you set this store up, and how was this received?
We recognised as a business that we didn’t do a very good job of telling customers about all the great initiatives we had been working on and driving through our business. Setting up this store gave us a platform to test different forms of communication, test new initiatives and really listen to what resonates with our customers the most. From a George perspective, customers and colleagues were really intrigued with the storytelling boxes and were keen to learn more. We spent time with our colleagues in store, sharing our strategy and educating them to enable them to be our ‘in store experts’, the feedback we received from them was phenomenal, they love being able to explain to customers what it was all about and why we are doing what we are doing.
Do you have any specific consumer insights regarding your Better Cotton information in the store and your communications?
The main feedback we received was via our colleagues who had been asked questions firsthand by customers in store. They said that was the first time they have been inundated with questions relating to anything other than product. Lots of customers wanted to understand more about Better Cotton and what it was all about and I truly believe that having the story telling boxes and the digitals screens really prompted customers to want to learn more.
You use digital screens to show footage of Better Cotton Farmers in store. Why was this important?
For us, it’s always been more than just on product marks, and we wanted to use this store to educate our customers more about what responsibly sourced fibres really means and how sourcing in this way not only has a positive impact on the environment but what it means to the farmers in the fields too.
What comes next?
We have taken some huge learnings from the Middleton store and still continue to do so. As a result of the trials in that store, we now have a constant ‘drumbeat’ of storytelling across our stores, this has been mainly executed on our digital screens within our stores and we continue to look at other ways that we can bring our customers along on this journey with us.
Learn more about how Better Cotton brings together actors across the cotton supply chain to create a more sustainable future for cotton.