Cotton Supply Chain Emissions, From Planting to Purchase

The global apparel and textile sector is increasingly unifying efforts to reduce both direct and indirect greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. These reductions are in line with the Paris Agreement to limit global average temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. The implementation of these measures to limit temperature increases is well underway and has implications for the whole cotton supply chain. Brand image is one key factor driving companies to pursue such emissions reductions, as conscious consumerism and purchases of sustainable products are growing. This, alongside the introduction of government-mandated sustainability requirements, will ripple throughout the entire global fiber supply chain, all the way to producers at the farmgate.

Cotton, alongside other natural and synthetic fibers, is a key component of this supply chain. In the future, increased transparency into the implications of fiber production for global warming will be a key driver of market share growth. Raw cotton production falls into the scope 3 emissions of textile and apparel companies and is an important step in the supply chain that will contribute to companies hitting their emissions targets. While on-farm production emissions are important, they are not (in contrast to farming operations in food supply chains) a major driver, and the cotton supply chain has numerous options to lower emissions.

We are currently in the stage where companies are identifying their emissions profile and developing near- and long-term strategies and commitments for mitigation. Although it is still early days, as companies increase their awareness and look to source sustainably produced products, cotton and its natural fiber and synthetic fiber counterparts will face increased scrutiny and ramifications. However, this also poses opportunities for ensuring strong market access or developing greater price premiums to support producers leading the way.

Producers, alongside local industry bodies, are already on the journey of capturing emissions data and improving the sustainability of their production systems through platforms, including myBMP (Best Management Practices). These steps will further enhance their ability to reduce the emissions intensity of their production and maximize their market accessibility.