Despite its many benefits, sourcing cotton sustainably isn’t always easy. Here we share some of the potential barriers and challenges you may experience, along with examples and ideas for overcoming them. These are both on an internal level – actions you can take within your organisation; and on a sector level – actions you can support through collaboration with others in the industry.
A major concern for companies that operate with tight profit margins can be an increase in product cost because of the potentially higher cost of sustainable cotton.
Cotton pricing is complex. Depending on various factors, sustainable cotton can in some circumstances cost more. This can be due to: premiums paid to farmers or farming communities; farmers, traders and others in the value chain charging more to reflect market demand for more sustainable cotton; certification processes and documentation including impact assessment and reporting; and supply chain players covering their real costs of segregating cotton sources and administration. Buyers at brands and retailers are usually many steps removed from the price negotiations at earlier stages of the supply chain.
However, depending on volumes and other factors, sustainable cotton does not always come at a higher price.
Overcoming the ‘price’ barrier
Teams and individuals at your company may not know why sourcing more sustainable cotton is important for your business and society. They may also struggle to evaluate sourcing options and the information provided by suppliers. A lack of awareness about more sustainable options can simply mean buyers don’t ask for them. As a result, it is not offered even if available.
Your company might well already have a sustainability strategy and accompanying targets. It is surprisingly common for employees to be unaware of the contribution they can, and are expected to make, to this strategic ambition.
Overcoming ‘internal awareness’ barrier
Need for additional resource/time
Launching a new sustainable procurement approach involves new learning, new processes and additional activities. For example, identifying a baseline of what volumes of cotton you are currently sourcing can be time consuming, as can training all relevant staff on sustainability and new sourcing systems.
Overcoming ‘resource’ barrier
Depending on the type of sustainable cotton you choose, you may encounter difficulties in finding partners who are able and willing to meet your demand. This will make it hard to establish suitable supply chains for your requirements.
You probably have well established supplier relationships along your supply chain. We recommend you work with existing suppliers first because it is the best way to ensure product quality and delivery expectations. If a more sustainable cotton is not available within your existing supply chain after working with existing suppliers, you may have to facilitate and negotiate new relationships. This can be a barrier for busy procurement staff and a potential source of concern in terms of quality, delivery and other commercial risks.
Overcoming ‘sourcing difficulties’ barrier
Aligning company vision/values with sustainable procurement:
Without an overarching commitment at the top of your business, which avoids contradiction between sustainable sourcing and core business values and goals, it can be difficult to justify allocating resource to sourcing more sustainable cotton. Some of the reputational benefits of sustainably sourced cotton may also be missed if the overall corporate vision and values contradict this.
Overcoming ‘vision / values’ barrier
A major motivation for many organisations sourcing more sustainable cotton is the claims you can make about products or in reports of your progress. However, the extent to which you can or cannot make claims about your products depends heavily on the relevant sustainability programme’s traceability model. This is not necessarily a barrier but it’s an important point to understand and be aware of.
Overcoming ‘‘traceability’ barrier
Supply Chain Awareness
Once your organisation has decided to adopt a sustainable cotton sourcing strategy, you also need to ensure you bring actors in your supply chain along on your journey. However, the benefits may not always be evident to them.