22/03/2022 – Annual Report of the U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol

On the road to more sustainable cotton production

The Trust Protocol highlights that significant progress has already been made compared to the last surveys conducted by the US Department of Agriculture in 2015.


USCTP wants to set a new standard for more sustainable cotton production. © Pixel-Shot/stock.adobe.com


Dr. Gary Adams, President U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol: “The Trust Protocol was designed to deliver a better future for U.S. cotton, ensuring that it contributes to the protection and preservation of the planet, using the most sustainable and responsible techniques.” © U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol


According to the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), the fashion and textile industry produces almost 20% of the world’s wastewater and emits about 10% of the world’s carbon emissions. Currently, the textile industry produces 1.2 billion tonnes of CO2 annually. According to a study by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation (UK), the textile industry as a whole could be responsible for a quarter of climate-damaging CO2 emissions by 2050. According to an estimation, the textile and clothing industry used about 80 billion cubic metres of water in 2015, while water consumption in the EU economy was about 266 billion cubic metres in 2017. Cotton is particularly in demand, accounting for about a quarter of global textile production. These alarming figures highlight the importance of initiatives such as the U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol (USCTP), established in the summer of 2020.

Measures of the USCTP

For decades, the 16,000 cotton farms in the United States have made great strides in more sustainable farming practices. They now use about 80% less water and 50% less energy and have reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 40%. At the same time, land use efficiency has increased by 50% and soil erosion has been reduced by a third. But there is still further potential here.

USCTP wants to set a new standard for more sustainable cotton production, where unprecedented transparency is a reality and continuous improvement is the central goal. The environmental performance of Trust Protocol cotton is measured and analysed in the field. To this end, Field to Market, the Trust Protocol’s data partner, has developed the Fieldprint Calculator, which quantifies cotton farmers’ progress.

In its first year of operation, the U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol has already welcomed 37 global brands and retailers, with a total of 100 expected by the end of 2022. The Protocol has incorporated 300 cotton producers who have collectively produced 950,000 bales of cotton. In 2022, membership is expected to grow to 750 farmers with a production volume of three million bales.

The Trust Protocol evaluates sustainability using six metrics. Significant progress has already been made compared to the last surveys conducted by the US Department of Agriculture in 2015.

  • Land use: In 2015, about 4.5 square metres of land were needed to produce one pound of cotton. Trust Protocol members needed only 3.5 square metres for the same amount in 2020/21.
  • Water consumption: It is estimated that 2,700 litres of water are needed to produce a single cotton T-shirt; this amount is equivalent to the average person’s drinking water needs over two and a half years. Trust Protocol members were able to reduce the amount of irrigation water by 14%.
  • Energy consumption: Cotton is an energy-intensive product. It requires diesel fuel for agricultural equipment, electricity for pumping irrigation water, and electricity and natural gas for ginning along its production process. The production and transport of fertilisers also consume energy, as does the transport and production of crop protection products. This energy consumption was reduced by 27% compared to 2015 thanks to more efficient energy use.
  • Greenhouse gas emissions: The textile industry produces more CO2 than global air and sea transport combined. The production and handling of clothing and home textiles consumed in the EU caused emissions of 654 kilograms of CO2 per person in 2017. Trust Protocol members have been able to reduce their CO2 emissions by 25% compared to 2015.
  • Soil protection: Soils are indispensable for people, especially as farmland. The current development of soils is alarming in many places in the world: Cultivated land is increasingly affected by soil damage due to erosion, salinisation, desertification and contamination. As the world’s population continues to grow, the amount of land available per person will be reduced by a quarter. Trust Protocol members have reduced soil erosion by almost 80% compared to 2015, thanks to the latest techniques.
  • Soil carbon: Soil carbon sequestration, which is important for water and nutrient storage among other things, has been substantially increased. 66% of members had positive carbon sequestration in their soils in 2021, according to the Soil Conditioning Index (SCI), thus actively contributing to climate protection.

Setting new goals

The U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol’s targets align with those of the US cotton industry for 2025:

  • Reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 39%,
  • reduce soil erosion by 50%,
  • reduce water use by another 18%,
  • reduce energy consumption by 15%,
  • while increasing soil carbon by 30%
  • and increasing land use efficiency by 13% (relative to 2015).

The initiative aims to convince more and more growers to join in and to cover 50% of the cotton grown in the US by 2025. The team of the U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol wants to ensure that their actions permanently lead to an ever-smaller environmental footprint of US cotton and thus make a significant contribution to achieving the global sustainability goals.