Better Cotton works with on-the-ground partners to train millions of cotton farmers around the world, supporting them to implement more sustainable farming practices that protect and restore the environment, while also improving their livelihoods. To ensure our programmes are making a difference, we are committed to measuring sustainability improvements everywhere Better Cotton is grown and to evaluating the environmental, social and economic impact of the Better Cotton Standard System.
It is important to measure the numbers of farmers participating in projects and meeting the Better Cotton Standard, or the volumes of Better Cotton licensed, but we must also understand whether, as a multi-stakeholder-driven sustainability standard system, we are making substantive contributions to more sustainable cotton production.
That’s why we seek to measure the change cotton farmers achieve in a diverse set of contexts, from smallholders with limited access to mechanisation, to the most technologically advanced farming operations. Our data-driven Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning (MEL) Programme focuses on farm-level results, to measure what matters most according to our Theory of Change: continuous improvement of environmental, social and economic conditions in cotton cultivation.
What do we mean by ‘Impact’
By ‘impact’, we mean the positive and negative long-term effects resulting from the implementation of the Better Cotton Standard System, either directly or indirectly, intended or unintended (from the ISEAL Impacts Code, adapted from OECD Glossary). Impact takes time to achieve and measure, but we have commissioned studies and partnered with academic institutions to seek greater understanding of the impact of Better Cotton on the people who produce it and on the environment.
ISEAL Code Compliance
ISEAL’s Impacts Code of Good Practice supports robust monitoring and evaluation that helps systems to understand how effective their standards are in achieving what they set out to do. It provides standards with a roadmap to measure progress against sustainability goals and to improve practices over time.
Better Cotton is ISEAL Code Compliant. Our system has been independently evaluated against ISEAL’s Codes of Good Practice. For more information see isealalliance.org.
We use complementary research and evaluation methods and work with independent organisations and researchers to assess the field-level results and impacts of the Better Cotton programmes. No single approach or methodology can meet all the needs for understanding the reach, efficiency, results, and ultimately impact of a sustainability initiative. A diversity of approaches is necessary to effectively measure results and impact both at scale and in depth.
Results and Impact FAQ
Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is a multi-step procedure for calculating the lifetime environmental impact of a product or service. The complete process of LCA includes goal and scope definition, inventory analysis, impact assessment and interpretation. In Better Cotton’s case, a stand-alone LCA would estimate the cotton production phase of cotton garments’ environmental impact.
Better Cotton is not planning to commission or participate in a standalone global life cycle assessment (LCA) of Better Cotton. LCAs are a useful tool to identify hotspots and priority areas for attention for a select set of environmental indicators. The LCAs published over the years have, for example, contributed to the sector’s understanding of what drives climate change from cotton cultivation and what are the best ways to mitigate it.
Standalone LCAs are not, however, an appropriate tool to make general, system-wide, global comparisons between identity cottons and conventional cotton. The fact that Better Cotton’s portfolio in terms of geographies is completely different from that of organic or conventional, and the seasons of analysis vary means the results are not comparable. The UN’s Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action Raw Materials Working Group’s recent report, “Identifying Low Carbon Sources of Cotton and Polyester Fibers”, highlighted this problem.
Life Cycle Inventory (LCI) is the data collection portion of LCA. LCI is the straight-forward accounting of everything involved in the “system” of interest. It consists of detailed tracking of all the flows in and out of the product system, including raw resources or materials, energy by type, water and emissions to air, water and land by specific substance. One of the Fashion Charter report’s main recommendations to the apparel and textile sector is to move away from standalone LCAs and instead use life cycle inventories (LCIs) and qualitative criteria around production impacts.
We agree with adjusting focus to LCIs that can provide more timely, granular insights to follow trends and galvanise action. We are moving in that direction in line with the Delta Framework with the development of a GHG emissions metric that we will report on at country level. Over the past year, we have tested the Cool Farm Tool’s robust GHG quantification tool.
We also agree with the recommendation to complement LCI data with qualitative criteria or measures. LCIs provide only a subset of what is of concern when it comes to sustainability in cotton production. Socio-economic issues – extremely important to the millions of people involved in growing cotton – are invisible; other environmental issues are partially covered but lack scientific consensus, like biodiversity and pesticide toxicity.
Better Cotton is included in the Higg Material Sustainability Index (MSI) as a chemistry qualifier. The chemistry score of a material can be reduced by adding Chemistry Certifications. These are certifications and programs that have submitted assessments and been reviewed as part of the Higg MSI Chemistry Impact Framework. More info on the available qualifiers can be found on the How to Higg website.
Chemistry Management Qualifiers can be added in two areas of the Higg MSI:
• As part of the “Chemistry Certifications” Production Stage (Material level)
• As part of the “Chemistry Certification” column in Additional Process Options (Facility and Process level) – BCI is included at the Process level
• Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) [Raw Material] should be selected when the cotton raw material is BCI cotton.