The Low-Down On Sustainable Cotton

by Gina-Marie Cheeseman on Feb 03, 2016

Cotton as a fiber is plant-based and as such is more sustainable than synthetic fibres. It is renewable and supports about 250 million people globally. Worn around the world, over 25 million tons of cotton are produced every year in around 85 countries.

Cotton is approximately 55 percent of the fiber used in clothing and textile production. Over 60 percent of the world's cotton is grown and produced in developing countries and provides a livelihood for over 100 million farmers. But intensive farming methods are used, such as overusing water and pesticides, and those methods threaten the ecosystems cotton depends on. Cotton farmers are also subject to price fluctuations and increasing input costs. Conventional cotton growing is just not sustainable.

“The indiscriminate use of pesticides is bad for the soil and has human health impacts. It's generally bad for the community,” Anita Chester, head of sustainable raw materials for the C&A Foundation, told TriplePundit.


By contrast, sustainable cotton is “cotton that's grown carefully” with environmental and economic aspects considered, Chester said. One standard within sustainable cotton is organic, which does not need pesticides or insecticides and uses less water and energy. It's environmentally friendly and provides financial security for smallholder cotton farmers. Chester explained that with organic cotton production, “natural methods are used to control pests with no GMO seeds used.”

The problem is that organic cotton only accounts for 1 percent of total cotton production. Organic cotton production has actually declined over the last five years. “Farmers don't see the advantage in staying organic,” Chester said. “They don't see a business case.” There are other problems, she added. “Retailers face issues of lack of transparency in their supply chains. There's a huge fear of GMO contamination.” …

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