Cotton is a natural renewable material with many advantages, but also a number of concerns. According to WWF research, it takes an average of 8,500 litres of water to grow one kilo of cotton lint – enough to make one pair of jeans.
Cotton is a soft, fluffy staple fiber that grows in a boll around the seeds of cotton plants of the genus Gossypium. The plant is native to tropical and subtropical regions around the world such as the Americas, Africa and India. China is the world’s largest producer of cotton.
The fiber is most often spun into yarn or thread and used to make a soft textile. Cotton is the most widely used natural fiber cloth in clothing today.
It is a renewable resource, but it comes with a number of challenges, including the use of chemicals and water intensive processes. Cotton is an enormously important commodity throughout the world. However, many farmers in developing countries receive a low price for their produce, or find it difficult to compete with developed countries.
Organic Cotton –
Organic cotton is cotton that, among other things, is grown without chemical pesticides or fertilisers. Organic cultivation also reduces the potential negative impact of cotton production on local water quality and biodiversity. The farmer must comply with the principles and standards for organic farming, and the applicable standards and not allow the cotton to be grown using genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
This eliminates the use of costly chemicals for farmers, is good for their health and reduces the impact on the environment.
Benefits of organic cotton:
- Same high quality as conventional cotton
- Zero use of pesticides or synthetic fertilisers
- Restrictions on the use of genetically modified seed
Better Cotton Initiative –
The BCI mission statement –
“BCI exists to make global cotton production better for the people who produce it, better for the environment it grows in and better for the sector’s future.
BCI works with a diverse range of stakeholders to promote measurable and continuing improvements for the environment, farming communities and the economies of cotton-producing areas.
BCI aims to transform cotton production worldwide by developing better cotton as a sustainable mainstream commodity.”
The BCI is a long-term multistakeholder initiative that develops and promotes good farm practices, allowing more cotton to be grown while reducing water and chemical use and protecting both working conditions and biodiversity.
The system has established minimum environmental and social requirements for cotton growing. The BCI is not a labelling scheme, nor will it provide Fairtrade or organic cotton. It aims to make all cotton more sustainable. It is a multistakeholder initiative that includes NGOs like WWF, clothing companies, cotton producer groups and trade and industry bodies.
BCI has 4 specific aims:
1- Reduce the environmental impact of cotton production
2- Improve livelihoods and economic development in cotton producing areas
3- Improve commitment to and flow of Better Cotton throughout supply chain
4- Ensure the credibility and sustainability of the Better Cotton Initiative
Retail members supporting the Better Cotton Initiative include H&M, M&S and Adidas.
My Views –
- The use of virgin, traditional Cotton is harmful to the environment, the workers and communities. Traditional cotton uses a lot of water and harmful pesticides and chemicals.
- Organic cotton working alongside the Better Cotton Initiative is the most ethical and sustainable option if this fabric is to be used. Organic cotton is better for the environment, the workers and the community. It may hold a higher price tag to consumers but customers are made aware of the true impacts of traditional Cotton, the higher price really isn’t an issue.
- The information raises the question of – why don’t all retailers switch to organic cotton or get involved with BCI? Is it expensive? Is it not in their interests to contribute to sustainability and ethical manufacturing? Is there enough awareness of the schemes and the processes? Are farmers aware of the risks traditional methods of growing cotton has on their health and wellbeing?
- H&M are an excellent source for researching sustainable materials. They include statistics and spread awareness of the true limitations the use of projects such a organic cotton can have on the business model.