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Acres expand, membership increases for U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol

Trust Protocol makes notable progress in the three years since the program’s launch.

Whitney Haigwood

January 19, 2024

4 Min Read
Close up of two rows in a cotton field with plants at bloom.
The U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol sees blooming success with overall grower enrollment up 120% since the program’s launch three years ago. Continued progress includes an increase in enrolled 2023 acres and the announcement of new major brands joining the Trust Protocol initiative.Whitney Haigwood

The U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol celebrated notable progress in 2023, with an increase in enrolled planted cotton acres – up 25% from the previous year. Since the program’s launch in 2020, grower enrollment has successively increased by 120%, further advancing the Trust Protocol’s commitment to meeting environmental goals while sourcing sustainable, American grown cotton. 

By the same token, this uptick in grower participation led to the appointment of an additional third-party verification support partner, Averum – specialized in sustainability certification. Additionally, the Trust Protocol welcomed major brand members to the program this year including Macy’s Inc. and Kiabi. 

Daren Abney, appointed as Trust Protocol executive director in July 2023, commented on the program’s success in an October press release.  

Abney said, “We continue to be inspired and encouraged to see that U.S. cotton growers have once again expanded the number of planted acres enrolled in the program, underscoring their unwavering commitment to ongoing improvement.  

“With the growing number of enrolled acres, we’re making even more environmentally responsible cotton accessible to our brand and retailer members for sourcing. The Trust Protocol team is excited to support our members in their more responsible sourcing practices.” 

Related:Enrollment opens for cotton sustainability programs

Continued Trust Protocol expansion 

For the 2023 crop year, 1.6 million cotton acres were enrolled in the program, representing 16% of the U.S. planted cotton acres. This remarkable participation boosts progress toward continuous improvement of the six key sustainability metrics while also meeting the global demand for sustainable cotton. 

These key metrics include land use, soil carbon, water management, soil loss, greenhouse gas emissions, and energy efficiency. Each year, Protocol growers provide farm-level data through self-assessment utilizing Field to Market’s Fieldprint Calculator. These measurements calculate the long-term sustainability of farming practices against the six key metrics on enrolled acres. 

Aggregate data is then verified annually by a third-party verification partner of the Trust Protocol. Since 2020, these independent verifications have been conducted by Control Union Certifications North America (CUC). Due to the increase in grower enrollment, the initiative announced in August 2023 the appointment of Averum, a subsidiary of Pinion, to provide additional third-party verification support in conjunction with CUC.   

Averum has a presence throughout the U.S. ag and food space, “from policy to plate,” as described on the company’s website. The Averum team specializes in strategic audit processes to help tell the story of sustainability. Moreover, the company understands agriculture and their verifications are streamlined with a farmer’s invaluable time in mind. 

Related:Two Midsouth farmers focus on sustainable practices

“Verifications play a critical role for the Trust Protocol as they bridge the gap between growers’ self-reporting and actual data, providing assurance to the brands and retailers on the sustainability of their raw cotton sourcing,” said Gary Adams, president of the Trust Protocol in a press release announcing the partnership with Averum. 

“To ensure we are staying committed to our independent verification methodology as we see continued growth in grower participation, we have chosen to partner with Averum who specializes in environmental and social sustainability, both of which are fundamental components of the Trust Protocol,” Adams continued. 

New brands join Trust Protocol 

This past fall, the Trust Protocol announced the membership of two major brands joining the program, each in an effort to meet their individualized goals for environmental and social sustainability.  

Macy’s Inc., with more than 700 stores nationwide under the names of Macy’s, Bloomingdales, and Bluemercury, joined the program as part of its commitment to sourcing sustainable U.S. cotton. This move aligns with the company’s private brand policy, pledged to source 100% preferred materials in all Macy’s owned brands by 2030. 

Another brand, on the international front, joined the initiative as part of its commitment to sustainably souring 100% of its products by 2025. Kiabi, a major French fashion brand, has 579 shops in 25 countries. The company already sources 72% of its products with sustainable fibers, and Kiabi’s membership in the Trust Protocol will drive the company toward goal achievement – combining fashion with sustainability to meet its “2030 Vision.” 

From the gin to the retail storefront, Protocol cotton can be tracked through the supply chain with the Protocol Consumption Management Solution (PCMS). This builds a sense of transparency and accountability that also measures the environmental promises made to stakeholders. 

“The Trust Protocol is the only sustainable cotton system that provides quantifiable, verifiable, goals and measurements and drives continuous improvement in six key sustainability metrics. It is also the first to offer article-level supply chain transparency to members,” as stated in an Oct. 9 program press release. 

Macy’s and Kiabi join with other Trust Protocol brands and retailers like Ralph Lauren, Gap, Levi Strauss and Company, and J. Crew – to provide consumers with high quality, sustainable American grown cotton. 

Reminder for Trust Protocol growers 

With more than 2,000 supply chain members and over 40 companies and their brands, the initiative is aligned with the UN Sustainable Development Goals, recognized by the Textile Exchange, and part of a long list of sustainability and environmental initiatives worldwide. 

All this growth and success would not be possible without grower participation, and enrolled Trust Protocol growers are reminded to upload their 2023 bales by the deadline of Mar. 1, 2024. 

We look forward to the coming year, as the Trust Protocol continues to expand its footprint, telling the story of sustainably grown U.S. cotton with a high standard of production supported by data driven insights. 

To learn more about the program and the benefits of becoming a member, visit their website at TrustUsCotton.org.  

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