The Australian cotton industry is under pressure from a many sources to continually improve and report on their sustainability performance. Agriculture is subject to environmental and social regulations enforced by government; industry is increasingly asked by suppliers to report on the use of sustainable management actions, who in turn sell to major retailers that want to demonstrate sustainability in their supply chain; and media stories and public campaigns focussing on pesticides or water use can be extremely damaging to an industry’s social license-to-operate. It is important for the Australian cotton industry to respond to these pressures in order to gain or maintain access to national and international markets, demonstrate the effectiveness of their environmental and social investments, and communicate to the public and policy makers where improvements to practice are providing real benefits. However, the sheer number of sustainability initiatives and issues makes it difficult to determine who, what, and how sustainability should be reported.
We have pulled together a large and diverse multidisciplinary team to work with the cotton industry to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of sustainability messaging and reporting. In Phase 1 of the project, we have
- Undertaken an in-depth review of the cotton value chain, where we reviewed 50 of the biggest multinational companies selected based on their annual revenue and volume of production;
- Mapped this diverse array of sustainability reporting requirements to existing data sources that have been, or could be used for sustainability reporting. The goal was to ensure that all sustainability reporting needs are met, while also removing redundancy in reporting; and
- Where we identified gaps, we provided recommendations about new sustainability indicators that could be adopted to meet these needs.
As we move into the second phase of the project, the main outcome will be an industry-wide information repository and visualisation tools that
- Automatically scrapes economic, environmental, and social data from the internet or internal cotton-industry databases, which can be used for sustainability reporting;
- Can be interrogated by the CRDC for different sustainability reporting needs; and
- Generates intuitive visual summaries of the data that can be used to communicate the results to stakeholders in the value chain.
These digital tools will set the industry up for on-going sustainability reporting, while lessening the burden of reporting on growers and industry staff.
This is a great example of how scientists and industry can come together to tackle big challenges with positive outcomes for business, people, and the environment.
Australian Cotton Research and Development Corporation
Dr Alice Payne
Dr Susan Fuller
Prof Stuart Parsons
Assoc Prof Richi Nayak
Prof Laurie Buys
Prof Bronwyn Harch
Assoc Prof Beverley Henry
Prof Peter Grace
Dr Elisabeth Zeitler