‘Cotton’ is becoming an increasingly dirty word in the fashion industry. Production processes can involve heavy use of pesticides, high water consumption and high greenhouse gas emissions. With both consumers and garment retailers exploring ways to minimise climate change, could organic cotton labels make a difference?
The thirst for cotton
Even in 2015, fresh water is still in scarce supply for many third-world countries. India especially is in the grips of a nationwide shortage, with over 100 million people unable to access safe drinking water, reports the Guardian. Shockingly, the amount of water consumed by India’s cotton industry in 2013 would be enough to supply 85% of the country’s 1.24 billion people with 100 litres of water every day for a year.
Just 1kg of cotton requires 22,500 litres of water, which is often too contaminated afterwards for human consumption. Despite this, cotton remains the most widely used textile in the industry, accounting for 90% of all natural fibres used by retailers, reports Shop Ethical. While it may be unrealistic to expect a complete industry-wide movement from using cotton, retailers can make a substantial difference to their eco-footprint by producing organic clothing – complete with organic cotton labels.
Reducing your environmental impact
The benefits of using organic cotton are undeniable. Through making the switch, retailers can reduce consumption of fresh water by up to 90% and energy use by more than 60%, as revealed in a new study by The Social Association: Cool Cotton. Organic cotton is often rain-fed rather than irrigated, while crop rotation helps soil maintain its nutrients and increases its ability to hold onto water.
Furthermore, 1 tonne of organic cotton fibre produces 978kg of C02. In a stark contrast, 1,808kg of C02 is emitted from 1 tonne of non-organic cotton fibre. Alarmingly, carbon emissions from cotton production could increase to 300 million tonnes by 2020 if we don’t make an active effort to practice organic cultivation.
Care for the local community
Commonly, cotton cultivation takes place in third world countries such as India, where the industry contributes a staggering 12% to the country’s total export earnings. For many of India’s citizens, cotton farming is their livelihood, with 100 million households relying on cotton for their sole income.
However, these workers are at risk of illness as a result of harsh pesticides used in production. Cotton cultivation accounts for 16% of the world’s pesticide use, according to Just Style. Unfortunately, while pesticides successfully kill pests, they can also harm farmers, with some strong pesticides containing cancer-causing properties. Pesticide poisoning is a widespread issue, with 1% to 3% of agricultural workers suffering from acute pesticide poisoning, resulting in 1 million hospitalisations a year, reveals Ethical Fashion Forum. The real number of people affected by the overuse of pesticides is likely to be even higher when taking into account any contamination of water sources and food supply chains.
On the other hand, organic cotton is produced without the use of synthetic pesticides. Crop rotation and natural predators keeps pests at bay, People & Planet reveals, effectively protecting the health of farmers.
The dirty world of cotton is no longer a secret. The media has brought the issue to attention in recent years, resulting in a growing number of eco-conscious buyers. In an eye-opening study on UK consumer trends for 2015, Mintel revealed that 76% of shoppers pay attention to the ethical and green credentials of products. A rising demand for organic has seen the global market for organic cotton rise by 67% in 2014, with the Soil Association now estimating the market to be worth $15.7 billion.
While minimising the impact to the environment, using organic cotton can also significantly improve the reputation of a brand, positioning it as a responsible and proactive retailer.
Go the extra mile with organic cotton labels
As an organic retailer, be careful not to neglect packaging and garment labels. While garment labels take up a small part of a garment, organic cotton labels can set your brand apart from the competition.
When we produce our GOTS certified organic cotton labels, we work closely with retailers to provide them with complete order visibility. In our Indian-based factory, we create cotton labels using organic and sustainably produced yarn sourced from GOTS certified mills, helping our customers to create truly organic clothing.
By Paul Brownhill
Group Chief Executive at Britannia Garment Packaging