skip to primary navigationskip to content

Cotton industry must incorporate natural capital in its business plans to ensure sustainable future, new University of Cambridge report says

last modified Oct 06, 2016 12:28 PM
11 February 2016 – Seven leading global businesses called today on all actors in the cotton industry to accelerate action on natural capital to ensure a sustainable future for the sector. They joined forces with social and environmental initiatives and cotton experts to produce a report that demonstrates the positive natural capital impacts of specific cotton production practices.

The report ‘Threading natural capital into cotton: Doing business with nature,’ published today by the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL), outlines the actions needed to ensure positive impacts on natural capital. It presents 15 different management interventions in the cotton supply chain, focusing particularly on water, biodiversity and soil.

An online cotton tool was also unveiled today to help businesses identify the types of interventions that are most relevant to their cotton production contexts.

Grown across 2.5 per cent of the world’s agricultural land

Cotton is one of the world’s most important crops. Last year, it was grown across 2.5 per cent of global agricultural land. Cotton is worn throughout the world, across socio-economic boundaries. However, the natural resources its production depends upon are at risk and must be safeguarded to ensure the long-term security of cotton supply chains.

The report concludes that natural capital must be recognised and understood by businesses and incorporated into their decision-making processes. By providing strong evidence of natural capital impacts, the report aims to inform a constructive dialogue and collaborative work between all actors, from farmers to retailers, and encourage progress towards sustainable and resilient cotton supply chains.

The report highlights opportunities to safeguard the natural resources the cotton industry depends upon while at the same time reducing business vulnerabilities and risk.

Online cotton tool

Threading natural capital into cotton: Doing business with nature,’ is the result of an unprecedented collaboration between the Natural Capital Leaders Platform and leading companies including Asda, Bayer, Cargill, C&A, Kering, Olam International and Value Retail, working together with experts and cotton initiatives as part of a Cotton Action Research Collaboratory (ARC).

Gemma Cranston, Senior Programme Manager at the Natural Capital Leaders Platform, hosted by the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership, said: “The challenge facing businesses around cotton is that there is not enough evidence around best management practices for natural capital. This is why we convened a group of leading businesses, experts and representatives from sustainable cotton initiatives to begin assessing the evidence for cotton-based management interventions on natural capital. By making it accessible to key decision-makers and influencers within cotton supply chains, more informed decisions can be made to support cotton’s sustainable future.”

The online cotton tool unveiled with the report will help businesses determine the management interventions they should prioritise depending on their position in the cotton supply chain. The tool is based on a technical report that challenges current management practices by providing a robust systematic review of scientific and accessible evidence. The online tool assesses various types of management practices and their impacts on natural capital, such as water, biodiversity and soil.

Business voices

Andy Clarke, President and CEO of Asda Stores Ltd

“We cannot envisage being economically viable without considering the natural capital upon which our products depend: focussing on nature is vital to securing long-term financial capital. In order to generate momentum, we need the support and involvement of all other industry players. We also need to be equipped with the appropriate science and knowledge. Our work with CISL on cotton has done just that and we hope that by being part of this journey, we will pave the way for concrete action in the future.”

Frank Terhorst, Global Head of Seeds at Bayer

“Cotton is a core crop for Bayer – with solutions for farmers ranging from high-quality seeds to cutting edge crop protection products, we lay the foundations for a sustainable production.”

Carl Peltzer, Director at Cargill Cotton

“To address natural capital concerns, we must encourage cotton producers to adopt better agricultural practices that can support improved soil quality, water management and enhance biodiversity while at the same time ensuring productivity gains and increased incomes. Farmers are at the forefront of these challenges and Cargill is playing its role to help farmers access the information and resources they need to improve their agricultural practices and livelihoods.”

Jeff Hogue, Chief Sustainability Officer at C&A

“At C&A we rely on more sustainable cotton and we feel that better understanding the impacts and dependencies on the natural capital at the growing phase is a fundamental part of ensuring more sustainably grown cotton.”

Marie-Claire Daveu, Chief Sustainability Officer and Head of International Institutional Affairs at Kering

“Safeguarding natural capital is integral for a business’ sustained success. At Kering we are using our Environmental Profit and Loss accounting to better understand our reliance on natural capital and to determine actions to help restore natural capital. Our innovative tool is enabling us to build resilience to climate change throughout our business and supply chains, with a particular focus on the sustainable production of key raw materials.”

Chris Brett, Senior Vice President and Head Corporate Responsibility & Sustainability at Olam International

“As a leading cotton buyer and ginner, we are well placed to interact with those both upstream and downstream within the cotton supply chain. We work to ensure that farmers are producing quality yields and receiving improved income – this will undeniably benefit the entire supply chain.”


Read the report: ‘Threading natural capital into cotton: Doing business with nature

Visit the online cotton tool