Target Joins Ranks of Retailers Sourcing Sustainable Cotton – But What Does That Really Mean?

by | Oct 13, 2017

With another major retailer joining the call for sustainable supply chains, garment manufacturers and brands face more pressure than ever to source their goods from only sustainable sources and make supply chains transparent: Target announced that by 2020, it will source 100% of its cotton from sustainable sources for use in apparel, home products and other goods. One big problem? No global standard exists for what actually makes cotton sustainable.

Target says that, while the term “sustainable cotton” means different things to different companies, the retailer has chosen to use the Better Cotton Initiative and Cotton LEADS for its cotton programs. These two programs are the most closely aligned with Target’s own definition of sustainable cotton, the retailer told Triple Pundit.

Target wants to focus on four major challenges the company faces regarding cotton: water footprint, use of chemicals throughout the cotton supply chain, soil health, and ethical working conditions.


Sustainable Cotton Demand Stems from Consumers

Target joins retailers like H&M, Gap, and JC Penney in demanding transparency and sustainability from their supply chains. The move makes sense from a financial point of view: market research has shown that many shoppers will shell out a little more money if they know a product, especially clothing, is environmentally friendly. Clothing manufacturers like Timberland and Wrangler are increasingly tapping into that consciousness with fashion lines made from recycled fabrics. But the catch is that the prices still need to be competitive with non-recycled garments to appeal to eco-minded consumers.

Millennials, in particular, are susceptible to a sustainable marketing story. When the consumer behavior research firm America’s Research Group polled 1,000 Millennials earlier this year, they found that 38% would “respond positively” to environmentally friendly products and would pay 3% more for them on average, the Associated Press reported. In May, Unilever published results from market research in five countries that found a third of adult consumers are choosing brands they believe are sustainable.


Seriously, Though, What IS Sustainable Cotton? Nobody Knows…

Manufacturers and retailers alike face a major challenge. As Target points out, “the tricky part is, there’s no industry standard definition for ‘sustainable cotton’ yet.” In the meantime, Target explains in its Sustainable Sourcing Policy for Cotton Products what meeting the goal of sustainable cotton means to the retailer: “…We aim to achieve full visibility into where the cotton our vendors use to produce our products is grown. We aspire to continuous improvement within the interconnected supply chain through collaboration with farmers and brands, as well as other retailers and organizations who share our commitment. We also intend to track and validate our progress.” Target vows to report its progress annually.

Pictured: Target Sustainable Cotton Sourcing Goal

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