Making cotton better for all

IKEA products use 0.7% of the world’s cotton production every year. Despite being a small number, it’s still big enough to drive change in the industry. And that’s exactly what IKEA of Sweden is doing.

Person carrying cotton in sunset

On a mission to make cotton better for all

Nearly a decade ago, a small and passionate group from different IKEA organisations came up with a big idea to source cotton in a more sustainable way. The goal was clear – that by the end of 2015 all of the cotton used in IKEA products will come from more sustainable sources. Now, almost a year away, 76% of the cotton used in 2014 came from more sustainable sources.

Cotton is one of our most valuable raw materials, appearing in hundreds of popular products from bed sheets and sofas to lampshades and curtains. It’s so important, in fact, that IKEA products use 0.7% of the world’s cotton production every year. Despite being a small number, it’s still big enough to drive change in the industry. And that’s exactly what IKEA of Sweden AB is doing – showing the industry how it can be done by helping a large number of farmers growing more sustainable cotton and by creating demand for more sustainable cotton in the supply chain.

Big steps lead to big change

Most cotton is grown and picked by hand on small farms in developing countries, and conventional farming techniques waste a tremendous amount of water, as well as chemical pesticides and fertilisers. The result of all this is often significant health risks to the farmer, soil erosion and water scarcity. And in some cases, child labour.

All of this simply has to change. So in 2005, three passionate people set out to ensure that our impact would be positive. One of them was Pramod Singh, IKEA Cotton Leader at IKEA of Sweden. He knew that the IKEA business could be a leader in the efforts, but that in order to succeed they had to broaden the scale. Like-minded people gathered from different companies and non-governmental organisations, and together agreed to create cotton that was better for farmers as well as for the planet. It was a first step toward changing the world of cotton farming, and marked the founding of the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI).

Co-founded by IKEA Supply AG and WWF, the BCI set out to make cotton production better for the people, the environment and business, and to develop Better Cotton as a sustainable mainstream commodity at no extra cost to the customer. ‘Better Cotton’ is one of the most significant elements in the IKEA sustainable cotton plan. It started with just 500 farmers, some of whom were initially resistant to change cultivation techniques. But after one year, the results were unprecedented in cotton production and the expansion to a larger group of farmers was rapid.

Hands-on training and field schools offered farmers in India and Pakistan the opportunity to learn new cultivation practices that would help them successfully grow cotton with fewer chemicals and less water. Inspired by the results, more and more farmers joined the projects. And in 2010, project farmers in Pakistan were the first in the world to produce licensed Better Cotton.

“It was learning by doing and at most times it was a close cooperation with the farmers to find the better way forward,” Pramod says. “The farmers had the practical knowledge about cotton cultivation, while we and our partners had the theoretical skills. Together, we could come up with good solutions.”

Person carrying cotton, blue sky

Transforming lives – and a market

Simply put, the efforts have produced staggering results – for the farmers, the environment and for the IKEA business. For more than 110,000 farmers and their families in India and Pakistan, life is so much better. Compared to those using conventional farming methods, project farmers in India boosted their earnings by about 45% in 2013. They also used 38% less pesticides, 29% less synthetic fertilisers and 24% less water than conventional farming.

Reaching the end of 2015 goal of having 100% of cotton for the IKEA products sourced from more sustainable sources is just one step on a much bigger journey to help transform the global cotton market, and make Better Cotton an affordable commodity.

“The ultimate goal is to change the whole world’s cotton farming,” Pramod says. “There is a reason why it’s called ‘Better Cotton’, because it implies that there will always be areas where we need to improve and develop. I hope that more sustainable cotton one day will replace all conventional cotton farming.”

Read the WWF and IKEA Project Report 2014.

facts about cotton