Cotton: organic trumps tradition

Several athletic shoe manufacturers such as Puma SE, adidas Group and NIKE, Inc. have contributed to a study on organic cotton. The results are striking; in nearly every category, using organic cotton fibre—rather than conventional cotton—was shown to cause less environmental damage, in areas ranging from carbon footprint to soil erosion.

Conducted by PE International, a market leader in sustainability strategic consulting, the “Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) of Organic Cotton Fiber” report was funded by 14 member organisations of Textile Exchange, an international non-profit committed to a more sustainable textile industry.

Members include the Global Organic Textile Standard International Working Group—a conglomerate including UK and Japan members—and a host of firms from around the world.

The study is based on data from producer groups located in the world’s top five countries for organic cotton cultivation: India, China, Turkey, Tanzania and the United States.

Together, these countries account for 97% of all organic cotton production. The LCA investigated the environmental impact of organic cotton cultivation in terms of global warming, soil erosion and acidification, water use and consumption, and energy demand.

To put the findings of the study into perspective, the results were compared to a separate peer-reviewed study of conventional cotton. While the two studies were done independently, the most significant findings show that using organic instead of conventional cotton reduces:

  • global warming potential by 46%
  • acidification potential by 70%
  • eutrophication potential (when water chemistry changes due to the addition of external substances) caused by soil erosion by 26%
  • blue water (water drawn from groundwater or surface water bodies) consumption by 91%
  • primary energy demand by 62%

While I am clearly biased—with over 20 years’ experience in the organic industry—a study of this scale and depth is difficult to contest. Choosing organic cotton saves money and time in ways that are clearly demonstrable to governments and industry.

While no one is advocating a required switch to 100% organic production, using a percentage of organic fibre in each garment or article—as the aforementioned shoe manufacturers do—reduces the total carbon footprint.

Instead of an all-or-nothing mentality in cotton use, it is time to move clearly toward increased use of sustainable fabrics. Organic fibres can be used in any item that is made with cotton.

For those who want to follow up the topic, The Guardian published its “Ethical Fashion Directory: Organic cotton index” on 26 November: www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/ethical-fashion-directory-organic-cotton

In Japan, there are several certified organic futon, clothing and towel manufacturers. Their details, along with further reading about the LCA study, can be found on the Textile Exchange website: www.textileexchange.org

It is not too late to buy a holiday gift; why not give an organic product this season?