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Big brands promise sustainable cotton

ASOS, H&M, Nike and IKEA among the 13 brands promising sustainable cotton by 2025
H&M store in Barcelona

Major fashion and sports brands ASOS, H&M (main image), Nike and Levi Strauss & Co. 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), in collaboration with Marks & Spencer and The Soil Association.

‘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.’

Soil Association’s policy director

Sustainable cotton by 2025

The 13 brands that have committed to sustainable cotton are: ASOS, EILEEN FISHER, Greenfibres, H&M, IKEA, Kering, Levi Strauss & Co., Lindex, M&S, Nike, Sainsbury’s, F&F at Tesco and Woolworths Holdings.

The Soil Association welcomed the commitment to move to 100% sourcing of sustainable cotton by 2025, calling it ‘a significant moment and a demanding commitment’ to achieve the existing standards – organic, Fairtrade, Better Cotton Initiative (BCI), Cotton Made in Africa and certified recycled cotton.

Peter Melchett, the Soil Association’s policy director, explained that 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.

Organic cotton – what’s the difference?

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

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 reliable livelihood and more secure access to food.

‘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.’

Soil Association’s policy director

Benefits to farmers and beyond

From a financial point of view, organic cotton production is economically competitive with conventional cotton. 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.

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 with 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 with 2,120 cubic metres in non-organic cotton.

On top of that, the LCA found there was a 62% reduced primary energy demand, 70% less acidification potential and a 26% reduced eutrophication potential compared with non-organic cotton.

Click here to read the ‘Cottoned on’ briefing paper from the organic cotton initiative.

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