13 Big Brands Commit To Sustainable Cotton

Big Brands Commit To Sustainable Cotton

Thirteen of the world's biggest clothing and textile brands have today committed to using 100% sustainable cotton by 2025.

Major fashion and sports brands ASOS, H&M, Nike and Levi Strauss & Co. and Swedish furniture and household goods retailer IKEA are among some of the companies that have signed up to the Sustainable Cotton Communique at a high-level meeting attended by HRH The Prince of Wales and organised by The Prince's International Sustainability Unit (ISU). Together, these companies use more than 300,000 tonnes of cotton every year. Over 3 million tonnes of more sustainable forms of cotton were produced in 2016, yet companies actively source less than a fifth of this.

Peter Melchett, Soil Association policy director, said: “The Soil Association warmly welcomes the commitment of these companies to move to 100% sourcing of sustainable cotton by 2025. This is a significant moment and a demanding commitment to achieve existing standards – organic, Fairtrade, Better Cotton Initiative (BCI), Cotton Made in Africa and certified recycled cotton.

“While each of these standards delivers different outcomes, together, they form a strong foundation for improving cotton’s social and environmental sustainability across the industry. Many of the companies supporting the initiative have a considerable way to go, while others have already achieved the commitment. Blazing the sustainable cotton trail is Greenfibres, which has produced 100% organic cotton products for two decades.

“Switching to organic cotton supports a way of farming that directly benefits both the local and global environment. Organic cotton farming has been proven to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and water use and virtually eliminates the use of pesticides. Organic cotton farmers grow a variety of crops to minimise pests and diseases and to maintain healthy soils, which means farmers have the additional benefit of a more secure livelihood, and secure access to food. The FAO estimates that nearly 100 million rural families directly depend on cotton production, and a move to producing sustainable cotton will help change the lives of these families for the better.”

Why organic cotton?

Non-organic cotton represents a tiny fraction of total arable land worldwide, yet a disproportionate amount of pesticides are used in cotton production. In India, the world’s top cotton producing country, land used for cotton production accounted for 5% of total agricultural land, yet pesticides used accounted for more than 50% of the total pesticides used in the country in 2014 (Organic Trade Association, 2017

Organic cotton farmers use a variety of natural techniques to maintain healthy soils and restrict pests, weeds and diseases. Central to this is the growth of a range of food crops alongside cotton which give farmers a more secure livelihood and more secure access to food. An UNCTAD report declared “Research shows that organic agriculture is a good option for food security... and [is] more sustainable in the long term” (UNCTAD 2009)

Organic cotton production is economically competitive with its conventional counterpart. A long term study in India recently revealed that, despite lower average yields, net profits of organic cotton systems are in fact similar, or sometimes better, than those of conventional systems due to the significantly reduced input costs Forster D, Andres C, Verma R, Zundel C, Messmer MM, et al. 2013

A Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), covering global organic cotton production found that organic cotton produced 978kg of CO2e per tonne of cotton fibre, a 46% reduction in global warming potential compared to non-organic cotton. The LCA also found a 91% reduction in water consumption – only 180 cubic metres of blue water is consumed per tonne of organic cotton, compared to 2,120 cubic metres in non-organic cotton. In addition, the LCA found there was a 62% reduced primary energy demand, 70% less acidification potential, and a 26% reduced eutrophication potential compared to non-organic cotton Soil Association 2015, Textile Exchange and PE International 2014  

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