Recognizing World Cotton Day: Cotton’s Role in Climate Change Strategies
October 21, 2020

Adopting Sustainable Cotton Practices Supports the Apparel Industry’s Road to Net Zero

A week after World Cotton Day, the global cotton industry is outlining the role this incredible material can play in the future of the planet. Cotton LEADSSM founding organization, Cotton Incorporated recently teamed with sustainability experts from the World Resources Institute (WRI) and VF Corporation for a webinar digging into how the apparel industry can meet climate change reduction targets.


The cotton industry’s sustainability goals to decrease energy use, soil loss, water use and land use, will help drive down GHG emissions in the apparel industry and the world.


  1. The Apparel Industry’s Roadmap to Net Zero

To prevent global temperatures from rising more than 1.5°C, GHG emissions must fall 45% from 2010 levels by 2030 and reach net zero by 2050. The WRI has guidance for apparel companies to quantify emissions across their value chain and set science-based targets to combat climate change. They recently took a deep dive into the major sources of GHG in the apparel industry and actions companies can take to reduce emissions. 

Their report identified six key interventions the apparel industry can adopt to reduce GHG emissions across their value chain:


      1. Maximize material efficiency: using less material means more product with less processing across the value chain.
      2. Scale preferred materials: create a majority of products using renewable materials.
      3. Accelerate the development of next-gen materials: biobased synthetics and recycled fabrics can make a large difference in emissions.
      4. Maximize energy efficiency: if you can’t control your energy source, use less energy.
      5. Eliminate coal in material and product manufacturing.
      6. Shift to 100% renewable energy.

Learn more about WRI’s roadmap to reduced GHG emissions in the apparel industry by watching the webinar.


  1. Cotton’s Role in Reducing the Apparel Industry’s GHG Emissions

The WRI found that the apparel industry’s value chain contributes approximately 1,393 million tons of GHG emissions split between:


      • Extracting raw materials (23%)
      • Processing raw materials (16%)
      • Producing and finishing materials (45%)
      • Assembling final products (16%)

Using renewable electricity sources for spinning yarn, weaving, dyeing and finishing is the biggest way to drive emissions to net zero across the apparel industry. However, companies often don’t have control over fuel sources. Sustainable cotton practices present a more readily accessible path to GHG reduction since:


      • Polyester is the highest GHG emitter
      • Traditional cotton faming is the second highest emitter by mass and about 3% of the value chain’s emissions

Trading fossil-fuel sourced polyester for sustainable raw materials can help companies drive down their emissions from raw materials. The U.S. cotton industry’s goal to reduce its GHG emissions by 39% by 2025 will make this renewable material even more responsible.


Learn more about the role raw materials like cotton can play in reducing GHG emissions by watching the webinar.


  1. GHG Emissions at the Company Level: VF Corporation’s Sustainability Journey

VF shared lessons learned from its sustainability journey, noting that while they’ve made progress on most of their ambitious sustainability strategy, they did not initially have a clear path to two major goals:


      • Reducing the average impact of key materials 35% by 2025
      • Halving their upstream environmental impact, farm-to-front door by 2030

Establishing science-based targets helped VF identify that 99% of their emissions come from ‘up-stream’ supply chain activities, 42% of which occurs in raw material extraction. VF recognizes that everything at the raw material stage of their products comes from the Earth or animals and is looking to engage in new raw material partnerships.


VF set a goal to ensure that by 2030 100% of their top nine materials will be regenerative, responsibly sourced or recycled materials. As a regenerating material that becomes more responsibly sourced every day, cotton can play a key role in helping VF and other companies reach this lofty goal.


Learn more about VF’s sustainability practices by watching the webinar.


The Webinar


In the CottonWorks™ webinar Cotton & the Climate Roadmap: Strategies for the Apparel Industry to Reach Net Zero, Michael Sadowski of the World Resources Institute (WRI) discusses how the apparel industry can achieve its science-based greenhouse gas reduction targets, and Sean Cady, vice president of global sustainability and responsible sourcing at VF Corporation talks about VF’s current science-based targets and the specific actions they are planning to take to meet their commitments. Watch the webinar to discover key interventions apparel companies can take to reduce GHG emissions.



The work we do is possible because of collaborations with researchers like these and partnerships with people all throughout the value chain. Ready to commit to sustainably produced cotton? Become a Cotton LEADS partner today. Interested in doing even more? Contact us for ideas to get the most out of sustainable cotton and your partnership with Cotton LEADS.

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