IKEA’s Better Cotton


IKEA set an ambitious target to source 100% of its cotton from Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) farmers by 2015. When you think of the world’s greatest cotton consumers, IKEA may not spring to mind, but it in fact uses 0.7% of the global cotton supply! That makes the fact that IKEA now buys all of its cotton from farmers working with the BCI all the more significant.

The Better Cotton Initiative was created 10 years ago by several non-governmental organizations along with IKEA and other notable apparel makers such as Adidas, Gap and H&M. Its mission is to encourage sustainable growing practices that rely on less water, less fertilizers and less pesticides, among other things.

Steve Howard, chief sustainability officer for IKEA, spoke of how they felt they had to commit to a 100% sourcing target to ensure that change happened. He said “If you set a partial target, everyone thinks they can be the exception”.

Although they still have time before they reach their target date, other high-profile apparel makers that committed to sourcing better cotton  have not made as much progress. Levi Strauss & Co. pledged to buy 75% of cotton sources from BCI-approved farmers by 2020. As of April this year they had only reached 6%. It is a great first step for companies to set targets, but without seeing significant progress they are meaningless promises (much like the COP21 country pledges- read more here). Levi’s do however have 4 years to prove me wrong- and I hope they do!

Howard credits years of grassroots advocacy and education for helping IKEA’s primary cotton farmers embrace growing practices that honor the Better Cotton Standard. Some farmers have realized reductions in water and fertilizer usage of up to 50%. Yields for many have also increased by 5-15%. Growing cotton in a more environmentally-friendly and efficient manner can increase productivity, reduce resource use, and can often increase profits by reducing operating costs.

Reaching its procurement goal doesn’t mean IKEA will stop paying attention to more sustainable cotton production either. “This is just a milestone on the journey. We will push for a better, better cotton” Howard said.

IKEA is particularly interested in saving water. It advocates drip irrigation techniques because they cut down on the amount of water that is sprayed onto soil where no crops are planted. The water crisis is a serious global issue, one that the World Economic Forum identified as the greatest risk in terms of impacts this year. It is therefore crucial that large international companies like IKEA are working to reduce their water footprint. IKEA also plans on diversifying the type of fibers it uses for textiles, both through recycling and by increasing the ways in which it uses hemp and flax. I’m looking forward to seeing what they do next!


*Photos sourced from IKEA website

Reference: Heather Clancy, Greenbiz

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