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Threading Natural Capital Into Cotton: Doing Business with Nature

Threading Natural Capital into Cotton is part of a University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL) series of publications, Doing Business with Nature. The series identifies challenges and opportunities for companies whose future growth depends on a healthy and sustained supply of nature’s goods and its services, known as ‘natural capital.'

Cotton is a natural fibre worn throughout the world across socio-economic boundaries and is one of the world’s most important crops. Asda, Bayer, C&A, Cargill, Kering, Olam, and Value Retail came together to spearhead The Cotton Action Research Collaboratory (ARC) and assessed how natural capital management can enhance supply chain resiliency.

Asda President and CEO Andy Clarke provides some insight into the collaboratory members' rationale for contributing to the report, writing in the forward, "We cannot envisage being economically viable without considering the natural capital upon which our products depend: focusing on nature is vital to securing long term financial capital."

The 3 key challenges to securing cotton supply chains identified by the report are:

  • Water stress from over-exploitation and changing weather patterns;
  • Biodiversity losses from sub-optimal pesticide application, conversion of natural habitat and mono-cropping; and
  • Frequent and high rates of agrochemical application, compaction, and erosion.

The 7 companies assessed 15 interventions related to water consumption, soil fertilization, pest management, and land and diversity management, that address these natural capital challenges, to set a basis for best practices going forward. These interventions can also be explored through CISL's interactive Cotton Tool.

This report provides an overview of each of the issues (Part 2) as well as the interventions (Part 3). More detailed information on these is included in the technical report. Additional considerations (Part 5) and barriers to implementation (Part 6) are also discussed. The report concludes with key messages and calls to action (Part 7), where the authors assert that "it is time to take action," and encourage those in the industry to consider natural capital within supply chains, translate the research in the report into action, and contribute to strengthening the related evidence base, particularly to inform scalability.

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