Cotton is responsible for 16% of global insecticide use, produces 220 million tonnes of carbon emissions, and uses more water than any other agricultural crop. The textile industry is the world’s most polluting industry after oil. Because of this, organic cotton is needed more than ever.
The marker of organic and sustainable cotton has become a sign of producing an ethical and quality crop. It enables better farming practices and encourages initiatives to help its producers.
One example is the Better Cotton Initiative standard, implemented across seven countries, which has reported yields and profits per hectare that were 23% and 36% higher, respectively, than conventional cotton farmers, while using less water and chemical inputs.
The stamp of organic enables these sustainable practices, and encourages a supply chain that is fair. It encourages farming practices that avoid pesticides, thereby reducing production costs and farming debts; builds soil fertility, locking more CO2 into the soil, reducing emissions; avoids hazardous chemicals associated with health problems for workers; and encourages better working conditions through regulated minimum wages, working hours and child labour risks. The end product doesn’t contain allergenic, carcinogenic or toxic chemical residues.
The benefits of organic and sustainable cotton have been picked up by the fashion industry in recent years. Primark’s sustainable cotton programme has seen Indian women farmers increase profits by 247%. Using sustainable farming methods, the farmers have also seen a higher yield and decreased water usage.
Meanwhile, as well as avoiding leather in all of its products, Stella McCartney now uses up to 72% organic cotton in its denim collection, and 54% in its cotton jersey. Similarly, H&M have set a target to use only sustainable cotton in its products by 2020. In its recent collections, 10.8% of its cotton used was certified organic, up from 7.8% in 2012, and products containing at least 50% organic cotton have dedicated tags.
Organic is becoming a sign of quality, a marker for responsible supply chains and ethical farming. With climate concerns moving up the global agenda, it is also becoming a clear sign of taking care of the environment, encouraging biodiversity, and being custodians of the land on which the cotton crop is grown.