A recent report by Textile Exchange (TE), a global non-profit organization that works to promote sustainable practices in the textile industry, has highlighted the good and bad news about the industry's use of organic cotton and other “preferred materials.” The benchmark report measures the progress of 57 leading textile companies in their effort to become more sustainable. The participating companies range in size from small start-ups to global brands but share the common objective of improving sustainability across their supply chains. These companies submitted detailed data about their use of organic cotton and other “preferred materials” to TE for analysis and comparison across the industry.

Among the areas where improvement is still needed, the report shows that the policies on raw materials (69 percent) and animal welfare (44 percent) are lagging behind human rights and ethical trade (81 percent). Also, long-term goals for a preferred material portfolio (57 percent) were found to be less common than setting targets for specific materials (74 percent). Another area for improvement concerns the availability of data on other preferred materials. While 73 percent of participants could provide data on organic cotton, the numbers dropped dramatically for other preferred materials. This makes it difficult to analyze the use of materials such as recycled polyester and cellulosic material such as lyocell.

Among the good news, the report shows that 93 percent of the companies have a vision or mission to become more sustainable. The vast majority of companies use a voluntary sustainability standard for organic products (70 percent) and other preferred materials (64 percent). Almost three quarters of the companies (74 percent) are reporting the amount of organic cotton they consume. Finally, a rather satisfactory 81 percent claim to be communicating the sustainability features of their products to their customers.

The “Benchmark Program for Organic Cotton and Preferred Materials” will be shared with the textile industry to enhance collaboration as well as knowledge sharing between companies that normally compete against each other. Each company that participates in the benchmark program receives a confidential report from TE that compares the reported data with those of other textile companies in order to identify best practices and encourage more action in key sustainability areas. During the pilot year of the program companies will receive a baseline analysis of their sustainability performance, which compares it with the sector average. In subsequent years they will be able to track their own improvements and measure their evolution against that of their peers.

The results of the benchmark report were presented at TE's global Textile Sustainability Conference, which took place in Mumbai on Oct. 5-10. They will also be featured in a series of online workshops for companies that will be launched later this year.