Ralph Lauren Corp.’s foundation says it will invest $5 million during the next five years to increase the production of sustainably grown cotton in the U.S.
The foundation’s pledge, set to be announced Tuesday, is part of apparel companies’ broader efforts to boost the supply of environmentally friendly materials in order to help meet sustainability targets they have set for themselves.
Ralph Lauren, for instance, has said that by 2025 it will source cotton and other key materials in a sustainable way. Globally, though, less than 1% of cotton is certified as organic and there’s also a need to increase supply of other types of sustainably grown cotton, said Halide Alagoz, chief product and sustainability officer at Ralph Lauren.
“That’s why all of us have to lean into creating further capacities for sustainable cotton,” she said in an interview. “We hope there will be other companies joining us.”
The $5 million pledge will be used to launch the U.S. Regenerative Cotton Fund in partnership with the Soil Health Institute, a nonprofit based in Morrisville, North Carolina. It will fund research into the impact of agricultural practices known as no-till farming and cover cropping, while assisting farmers who want to use the techniques.
Plowing disrupts the soil and releases carbon into the atmosphere, said Cristine Morgan, chief scientific officer at the Soil Health Institute. “It’s almost like someone taking a wrecking ball and knocking down your house every year,” she said.
Of the 12 million acres dedicated to cotton production in the U.S., 8% uses cover cropping and around 20% employs no-till farming, she said. She and her colleagues are preparing to research in more detail the impact of the practices. Morgan said she expects they will result in better drought resistance, fertilizer efficiency and weed management.
Ralph Lauren won’t immediately incorporate the regenerative cotton that’s grown under this program into its supply chains. The near-term goal, Alagoz said, is to increase the supply and availability of more sustainably grown cotton.
“Later, we will find out how to connect it to our business and our product,” she said.
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