Fast Mover Kmart Shows No One Needs to Drag Their Feet

Kmart Australia, an Australian and New Zealand value retailer– and client of RESET Carbon since 2016– has solved a piece of the supply chain sustainability puzzle. Since making a commitment in 2017, Kmart is on track to become one of the fastest companies to source 100% more sustainable cotton via the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI), scaling up to 90% in less than two years. They are aiming for 100% by 2020.

Kmart’s experience confirms that Better Cotton can be implemented at low cost, if suppliers are engaged with a clear narrative about its importance and long term commitments on sourcing volumes. It has to be for Kmart, which is a value retailer. According to BCI itself, most buyers should not be paying a premium for Better Cotton. In fact, much of Better Cotton fibre is sold as normal cotton, as the supply of Better Cotton worldwide– approximately 20% of total global supply of cotton– still outstrips demand from retailers and brands.

What’s the bottom line here? Better Cotton is low cost because it is an incremental standard designed to go after volume. This strategy has its detractors but there are premium cotton options available such as “organic” for those that want to do more. BCI is succeeding in their volume play. They are targeting 30% of the global cotton market and BCI and its equivalent standards are responsible for over 80% of ‘preferred’ cotton sales worldwide. If Kmart– a business that offers the lowest prices on its everyday items– can make the shift to sustainably sourced cotton, then from a financial perspective, anyone should be able to.

But they don’t. Upmarket brands and retailers don’t. Even brands committed to more sustainable cotton don’t– only 10% of brands participating in Textile Exchange’s Sustainable Cotton Challenge have reached the 100% goal.

In reality, the issue is prioritisation not money. How important is sustainable cotton to these brands? By delivering a complete shift in under three years, Kmart Australia is demonstrating that, with a focused sourcing team and support from senior management, quick implementation of meaningful low-cost changes such as Better Cotton are possible. Kmart has shown us that many other brands are stumbling because they haven’t prioritised sustainability enough to make adjustments in their sourcing practices, rather than issues such as cost or availability of solutions. The same is true with other environmental issues:  safe wastewater, better chemicals and the first 20% of anyone’s carbon reductions can all be delivered with high levels of cost effectiveness. Companies just need to want it more.