Taking The Lead

Mark Lange
Mark Lange

National Cotton Council

Cotton LEADS™, a unique supply chain initiative advocating and demonstrating responsible cotton production practices, has gained more than 200 partners across the global cotton textile supply chain since being initiated by the Australian and U.S. cotton industries in 2013.

Why was Cotton LEADS™ initiated?
Australian and U.S. cotton producers annually devote $20 million and $50 million, respectively, to agricultural research. This investment: 1) enables them to achieve continual and substantial environmental improvements; 2) eliminates the alternative of farm level certification programs; and 3) extends the research activity beyond the farm gate to all sectors associated with the manufacture of cotton yarns, textiles and apparel. Cotton LEADS™ was initiated to raise awareness of these producers’ environmental advances – as they operate in a regulatory environment unlike anything faced by the world’s other cotton producers. Measures of environmental gains over the past 30 years have been established by USDA and other third parties.

Founded by Cotton Australia and The Cotton Foundation, Cotton LEADS™ is being strongly supported by the Australian Cotton Shippers Association, Cotton Incorporated, the National Cotton Council and its export promotions arm, Cotton Council International. The no-cost, no-certification program is driven by producers, scientists and professionals striving to ensure cotton is produced responsibly for years to come. Producers are asked to operate under the program’s five principles consistent with sustainability, the use of best management practices and traceability in the supply chain. Those principles and more Cotton LEADS™ information is at www.cottonleads.org.

Increased use of conservation tillage has helped reduce soil loss by 68 percent in the last 30 years.
Increased use of conservation tillage has helped reduce soil loss by 68 percent in the last 30 years.

How do supply chain firms participate?
Yarn spinners, textile and apparel manufacturers, retailers, brands and even other cotton industry firms can become Cotton LEADS™ participants by specifying the program as one of their preferred cottons and signing the “Commitment to Cotton.”

Noteworthy is that the program was designed to have minimal interference in the market and not impose additional costs on producers, supply chain companies or retailers and brands. By encouraging a reliable supply of responsibly-produced raw fiber for the global cotton industry, the program continues to attract textile business interest globally. That’s helping cotton compete for market share among other fibers, including man-made fiber. And we believe Cotton LEADS™ should help in maintaining or even increasing the world demand for cotton – as the fiber’s perception will be elevated.

Is the program gaining partners?
Cotton LEADS™ now has more than 200 partners. That includes many prominent U.S. yarn spinners and textile and apparel manufacturers – suppliers to some of the world’s most recognizable brands. Partners also include many of those key retailers and brands such as Target, Brooks Brothers and Gerber Childrenswear. All of these companies have formally acknowledged the merits of Cotton LEADS™ cotton and now include it within their sustainable sourcing guidelines.

They acknowledge that cotton, grown under the strict Australian and U.S. regulatory environments, helps assure customers of their firm’s commitment to sustainability and traceability in the cotton used in their products. These partners also have the opportunity to support research projects, help disseminate information on best practices or create important partnerships for continual improvement.

Mark Lange is the president and chief executive officer for the National Cotton Council of America. He and other NCC leaders contribute columns on this Cotton Farming page.

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