The positive future of Sustainability and Organic Cotton

I was grateful for the opportunity to attend the “Organic Cotton Round Table” (OCRT) event at the Textile Exchange Sustainability Conference. 

At the start of the round table, there were many accolades for people who are making a difference in sustainability with a push for organic cotton.  The Managing Director of Textile Exchange and the Conference, LaRhea Pepper remarked, “Keep the Vision, build the Bridges, and be willing to take the Journey.  If you are not at the table, you are on the menu.”

Cara Chacon the VP Sustainability for Patagonia  “LaRhea, you have inspired Patagonia and me over the years and the legacy you have left us” 

“We are here today because we are in unprecedented times.  We need to lift it up another 100 times” (By scaling Organic cotton beyond the 1% it is today).  Emphasizing the serious environmental issues the world faces today.  Cara went on to highlight the challenges of the Sixth Extinction.

Sixth Extinction 

The planet is entering a sixth extinction; over the last half-billion years we have been through five extinctions.  The future extinction is predicted to be the most devastating; the cause of the extinction is human interference; dozens of species have already gone.  Who is next? 

We are seeing the effects in current weather conditions: all the fires in California and Australia are a result of climate change.  Towns in many parts of the world are flooding on a regular basis.  Predicted warming of 1.5 degrees will make further drastic changes to our world.  We have only ten years to make the changes required to save the planet. We are losing topsoil.  Good topsoil is essential for everything: agriculture, economics, and weather.  The UN stated all the world’s topsoil could be gone in 60 years

We are in a freshwater crisis.  Over 1.9 billion people live in water-scarce areas,  By 2050 this could increase to 3 billion people. 

There is a dead zone throughout our land.

Organic Cotton

We all need to have a common vision with common goals.  Nineteen out of the 28 member state countries of the European Union have voted to either partially or fully ban Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs).

The Organic Cotton industry is a beacon of hope, but it is facing its own challenges:

  • Seed scarcity – investment in, and production of, organic and non-GM (genetically modified) cottonseed has been in serious decline. Awareness of this issue is growing and investment is beginning to return. 
  • Supply Chain challenges – farmers are sometimes unable to sell their organic cotton for the price it deserves because of ineffective market linkages.  The situation is improving with collaborations between big and small brands (Kering, C&A Foundation, Patagonia, and many more) to develop strategies around organic cotton.
  • Fraud
  • Lack of awareness and education

Life cycle analyses of organic cotton reveal’s a reduction in global warming; less water consumption; lower energy demand; less acidification of the oceans.

The benefits of organic cotton – no toxic chemicals, harmful pesticides, and insecticides – all help to improve the topsoil.   But some of the challenges are that conventional cotton varieties have a higher yield, meaning a single plant will produce more fiber than its organic counterpart.  

It will take about 290 gallons of water to grow enough conventional, high-yield cotton to produce a t-shirt (according to Cotton Inc.).  To grow the same amount of organic cotton for a t-shirt, however, requires about 660 gallons of water. 

It’s common to see the claim that organic cotton actually requires less water over time; in large part, because soil with more carbon from organic matter stores water better. 

The Patagonia mission statement: “We are in business to save our home planet”

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