Is Organic Cotton Sustainable & Eco Friendly For Clothing, Fabric & Textiles?

We’ve already put together guides about some of the most eco friendly fibres and fabrics, and the least eco friendly fibres and fabrics.

The aim of the guide below though is to get an idea of how sustainable and eco friendly organic cotton might be.

To do that, we look at how organic cotton rates amongst different measures (such as how much water it uses, the carbon footprint, how much land it uses, pesticide and fertilizer use, and more)

 

Summary – How Sustainable & Eco Friendly Is Organic Cotton For Clothing, Fabric & Textiles?

Overall

– Potential Good Points

There’s two main stages to making cotton products – growing, and processing.

At the growing stage, organic cotton might be be better for the environment than regular cotton because of more sustainable farming practices, and a focus on natural pest control and naturally derived fertilizers over synthetic agricultural chemicals

At the processing stage, certified organic cotton appears to be more sustainable and eco friendly than regular cotton if less toxic chemicals, dyes and bleaches are used, and these chemicals are captured and re-used, as well as water being captured, treated and re-used.

Overall, when looking at a range of different sustainability measures, organic cotton may be more more sustainable or environmentally friendly (in terms of pollution and other measures) than regular cotton (read about how sustainable and eco friendly conventional cotton might be in this guide)

Organic cotton seems to have a similar level of eco friendliness and sustainability as hemp, bamboo, and TENCEL/lyocell.

 

– Potential Bad Points

During the growing stage, organic cotton yields might be lower, with some suggesting not using synthetic fertilizers, synthetic pesticides, or GM seeds possibly being the major causes.

This can mean a number of things, including a less efficient use of natural resources as well as other agricultural inputs (like land, water, organic fertilizers and pesticides, and so on)

So, there might be at least some sustainability questions at the growing stage for organic cotton when it comes to efficient water, land and energy use (direct energy, and embodied energy in inputs like fertilizers), just as a few examples.

Lower yields and the requirement to use more resources for the same amount of production may also contribute to environmental and social issues like water scarcity, climate change, land scarcity.

Beyond growing and production, there’s the economics of organic cotton vs regular cotton to consider. 

Profits and revenues for organic cotton might also be lower compared to regular cotton as a result of yields and other factors … but it might depend on the where the cotton is grown and how it is grown (i.e. comparisons might be made on an individual farm by farm basis).

As one example, some sources indicate that in specific regions, it’s uneconomical to grow organic cotton.

Some people point to the subsidisation of regular cotton, and the fact that it doesn’t pay a price upfront for the damage it may cause environmentally, and say that these factors give regular cotton a somewhat uneven advantage over organic cotton in both how established regular cotton is, and also how affordable it is on the market (and also how it can position itself on the market compared to organic cotton).

Others say that the potential economic disadvantage and higher prices that organic cotton may have compared to regular cotton might be due legitimate labor requirements, regulations and decreased yield and production challenges.

 

– GM Cotton Seeds As A Variable In The Future

One of the big variables with regular cotton as technology advances could the use of GMO seeds which are genetically engineered for beneficial traits such as water retention, pest resistance, nutrients retention, and so on.

These traits could change how sustainable GM cotton is across several indicators.

One the flip side of that, some sources indicate that herbicide use has increased fifteen fold since GMOs were first introduced, so, GM cotton may not be the ‘magic bullet’ that some might think it is.

You can read more about the potential pros and cons of GMO crops and foods in this guide.

 

– Combining Aspects Of Organic Cotton and Regular Cotton Farming & Production For The Best Hybrid Approach

Some people suggest that combining the best and most sustainable practices and aspects from both conventional and organic cotton farming and processing might be an option, instead of having to pick one over the other.

We’ve included some of the potential overall pros and cons of organic cotton specifically in this guide as a summary.

 

Specific Summaries Of The Different Sustainability Aspects Of Organic Cotton

Beyond the above general summary of organic cotton, these are some specific summaries of the different sustainability aspects of organic cotton production process to consider …

 

– What % Of All Cotton Is Organic?

At the moment, organic cotton only makes up under 1% of global cotton production

 

– Organic Cotton Production & Consumption

At the current time, more than 200,000 farmers might grow organic cotton worldwide

Organic cotton production can go through multi year increase and decrease trends, but overall, it tends to be increasing

Natural events, and the climate can impact production year to year

India grows the majority of the world’s organic cotton right now – estimates put the % at over 65%

The US is one of, if not the biggest consumer of organic cotton

 

– How Organic Cotton Plant Is Used

The organic cotton plant can be used for both it’s lint/fibre, and for cottonseed oil

 

– Yield Of Organic Cotton

Several sources indicate that conventional cotton has higher yields that organic cotton.

One source indicates that one of the side effects of cutting down on synthetic pesticides and herbicides when growing organic cotton, is that the yield per acre might drop compared to regular cotton

Decreased yield has other potential flow on effects like decreased total production, and of course decreased revenue for farmers

Lower yields also indirectly mean that farming inputs are being used and managed less efficiently and sustainably (as there is less of an output for these inputs)

However, there are some studies that indicate that organic cotton farming can match or exceed conventional farming in some instances

So, a more definitive consensus might need to be reached on this measureable

 

– Water Use

Organic cotton may place more of an emphasis on rainfed crops (i.e. using rain water) over watering crops with less renewable irrigated water. 

Ground water sources may in particular be less renewable as they can take longer to recharge.

So, it’s important to identify the type of water being used in different cotton types, and in what quantities they are being used.

Some sources indicate that organic cotton is a net lower water user for finished products.

But, other sources indicate that conventional cotton products have a lower net water use.

So, there might be some conflicting reporting on water use of different cotton types.

Furthermore, it’s worth noting that regular cotton may experience increases in water efficiency in the future if irrigation becomes more efficient, and if GM seeds can in fact deliver water savings

Ultimately, water use might vary between individual farms and geographic regions, and across different supply and production chains.

 

– Carbon Footprint

One report indicates that organic cotton produces almost 50% less carbon equivalent than conventional cotton

Another report indicates that organic cotton in several countries has a lower carbon footprint up to the spun fibre stage, compared to conventional cotton and polyester (a synthetic fibre)

Another report indicates that organic cotton has a lower carbon footprint than other natural fibres and also synthetic fibres

 

– Energy Footprint

One report indicates that organic cotton has lower energy use than non organic cotton

Another report indicates that organic cotton has a lower energy footprint than other natural fibres and also synthetic fibres

 

– Pesticide Use

Organic cotton tends to place an emphasis on the use of biological or natural pest control over the use of synthetic pesticides, herbicides, and insecticides (specifically persistent and harmful pesticide chemicals)

 

– Fertilizer Use

Organic cotton tends to place and emphasis on the use of natural fertilizers and natural nutrient additives, like for example animal nature and compost, over synthetic fertilizers made from mined resources and fossil fuels (nitrogen, phosphate and potash fertilizers)

 

– Cropland Use

In some countries, the amount of land planted with organic cotton crops has increased by more than 30% from one year to another recently

Opportunities have also been identified to expand organic cropland acreage significantly in the future

Something that is noted about organic farms is that they may use more land and labor to produce the same amount as conventional agriculture. There are a number of potential flow on effects from this relating to working and business conditions, revenue, economics, and efficient use of resources (which impacts sustainability)

 

– Potential Impact On Soil Health & Land/Soil Degradation

Organic agriculture may us a number of practices that leads to better soil health, and also reduced land/soil degradation. This is in comparison to other more intensive forms of agriculture that rely on agricultural chemicals like fertilizers and pesticides, and involve intensive practices like tilling, harvesting, etc.

Some of this can be dependent on the individual farm though – different farming operations might use different farming practices

 

– Chemicals Used During Processing & Manufacturing

Organic cotton may place more of an emphasis on using more natural substances (like dyes, bleaches, prints, etc.) during the processing and manufacturing stage

Organic cotton may also place more of an emphasis on using processes/practices like closed loop processing that help address more sustainable or eco friendly treatment and management of waste water and chemicals

 

– GMO Use

Organic cotton universally places an emphasis on non GMO cotton seed use.

 

– Biodegradability

By itself, organic cotton is generally biodegradable

However, if it’s mixed in a finished textile product with other fibres, such as synthetic fibres, it may have issues with biodegradability.

 

– Potential Impact Of Organic Cotton On Humans & Human Health, The Environment, & Wildlife

We outline some of the potential impacts in these areas in the guide below

 

– Potential Economic Impact Of Organic Cotton

We outline some of the potential economic impacts in the guide below

The data suggests the organic cotton industry, which is already worth billions, is growing over time, along with sales growing as well

Subsidies and funding are also increasing in some countries

 

– Growth Of The Organic Cotton Industry, & Increased Use Of Certified Organic Cotton

There’s data that suggests that organic cotton as an industry is growing over the long term, and also certified organic cotton labeling is being used more widely.

 

– Challenges For The Organic Cotton Industry

Despite growth and greater uptake and use of organic cotton, there still exists a number of challenges for organic cotton as a product

Price of organic cotton products is on of the major challenges, along with additional requirements along to production and supply chain for producers and suppliers

We list some of the other potential challenges in the guide below

 

– Potential Improvements For Organic Cotton Industry

Below we outline what some potential improvements in the organic cotton industry might be

There’s a number of these potential improvements to consider

 

– Case Studies On Small Organic Cotton Farms

Some case studies show favorable results for small organic cotton farms, mixed in with some negative results to do with human labor.

We outline one study at the bottom of this guide.

But, to get an accurate view of organic cotton farming, a more reliable sample size might be 1000’s of different sized farms in different climates, conditions ang geographic locations around the world.

 

Regular Cotton Compared To Organic Cotton

We’ve also put together this guide which have further information on cotton and organic cotton:

Conventional Cotton vs Organic Cotton: Comparison

 

Textile & Fibre Options Other Than Cotton For Sustainability

Some sources indicate that for better overall sustainability in clothing, fabric, fibres and textiles, other options to look at might include GOTS certified cotton, recycled cotton, 100% natural linen, and companies that are very transparent with their supply and production processes, or have a range of recognized sustainability certifications across various stages of their supply/production process (growing, production, dying, bleaching, finishing, weaving, and so on), with TENCEL’s lyocell and modal fibres being one potential example of this.

But, beyond the production stage, there’s also the consumer usage, maintenance and waste/recycling stages to consider as well.

Some bamboos and hemps could be reasonably sustainable when sustainably/responsibly grown, and combining that with closed loop processes, as well as using naturally derived production chemicals, and similarly more natural/organic and eco friendly post-growing processes and chemicals.

 

Other Notes

The above summary and the information found in this guide is a generalisation only.

Not all organic cotton products are the same – different brands and supply chains will have different processes for delivering cotton materials and finished cotton products.

There’s many variables that go into an organic cotton product – where it’s grown, how it’s grown, how it’s processed and treated, and so on.

All these variables determine the footprint of the final organic cotton product.

Organic cotton growing/farming, and processing may differ by country, especially between the first world and developing world countries.

Different conditions, climates, soils, farming technology, farming methods and other factors can impact how well the organic cotton fibre grows, and different factories and processing plants for cotton have different procedures.

Developments and advancements with cotton farming, and use of GMO cotton seeds is allowing new capabilities with cotton production such as increased yields and better drought resistance (amongst other capabilities)

These factors and others can impact the final sustainability and eco friendliness of any particular product.

There’s also the social impact, economics and practicality to consider.

Just because something is eco friendly and sustainable to produce – it doesn’t mean that it is good for employment, profitable or even practical to produce (for businesses and workers) or use (for consumers).

So, there can be a weighing up and tradeoff of product priorities, preferences (for buyers, sellers, and society) and conflicts of interest to consider (political and corporate agendas can sometimes play a part too for example). 

 

Firstly, What Is Organic Cotton?

Firstly, for those who want or need a brief description of what organic cotton actually is, you can read about what organic cotton is in this guide.

 

What % Of All Cotton Is Organic Cotton?

Organic cotton now equals 0.7 percent of global cotton production (ota.com, and organiccottonplus.com)

 

This guide also outlines the production share and breakdown of natural fibres in general, and all cotton, compared to other natural fibres.

 

Organic Cotton Production & Consumption

Below we outline how much organic cotton is grown, how many farmers grow it, organic cotton production trends over time, factors that impact organic cotton production over time, countries that consume the most organic cotton, and retailers that use the most organic cotton.

 

How Much Organic Cotton Is Currently Grown & Produced?

… 112,488 metric tons of organic cotton [were produced] in 2015 (sourcingjournal.com)

 

… approximately 151,079 metric tons (MT) of organic cotton (693,900 bales) were grown on … in 2010-2011 (ota.com)

 

How Many Farmers Grow Organic Cotton

193,840 farmers [grew] organic cotton in 2015 (sourcingjournal.com)

 

Approximately 219,000 farmers [grow organic cotton fiber] (organiccottonplus.com)

 

Is Organic Cotton Production Increasing Or Decreasing Over Time?

In 2014, organic cotton reversed a three-year trend and grew globally by 10 percent.

– triplepundit.com

 

U.S. organic cotton production continues to increase …

[From 2009 to 2010] bales harvested were up nearly 24 percent … yielding 13,279 bales

– ota.com

 

The OTA reports that American farmers increased plantings of organic cotton by 26 percent in 2009 over 2008 … (business-ethics.com)

 

What Factors Can Impact Organic Cotton Production From Year To Year?

[Droughts, other natural events, and climate variances can decrease organic cotton production year to year] (ota.com)

 

Countries That Grow The Most Organic Cotton

Nineteen countries are farming the fiber—India is making the lion’s share of it (67 percent) (sourcingjournal.com)

 

India grows the great majority of the world’s organic cotton … (qz.com)

 

Organic cotton was grown in 20 countries worldwide in 2010­-11, led by India …

[the rest of the top growers were …] (in order of rank): Syria, China, Turkey, United States, Tanzania, Egypt, Mali, Kyrgyzstan, Peru, Pakistan, Uganda, Burkina Faso, Benin, Paraguay, Israel, Tajikistan, Brazil, Nicaragua, and Senegal

– organiccottonplus.com

 

Per theguardian.com: 

… India currently produces two-thirds of the world’s organic cotton.

However, this is just 2% of the country’s cotton acreage.

 

Countries That Consume The Most Organic Cotton

… the US is probably the biggest organic-cotton consumer (qz.com)

 

Retailers That Use The Most Organic Cotton

… Sweden’s H&M, which manufactures much of its clothing in Asia, has been labeled [organic cotton’s top user] (qz.com)

 

Uses For The Organic Cotton Plant

The lint can be used for cotton fibre, and seeds can be used for cottonseed oil.

 

Organic cotton fiber is used in [a large range of retail products]

In addition, organic cottonseed is used for animal feed, and organic cottonseed oil is used in a variety of food products, including cookies and chips.

– ota.com

 

The Yield Of Organic Cotton

Organic farming compared to conventional farming yield is outlined below, along with the potential impact on yield of reducing pesticide and herbicide use.

 

Compared To Conventional Farming

Per sourcingjournal.com:

In drought years, yields were higher in organic systems, and an analysis … found that yields in organic farming systems with “good management practices” can almost match conventional cotton yields

 

Compared To Conventional Cotton

Several sources indicate that conventional cotton has higher yields that organic cotton

 

Yield per acre:

… organic [cotton] farmers can save on energy by cutting synthetic pesticides and herbicides [compared to regular cotton], [but] their yield per acre drops (slate.com)

 

A six-year study of three cotton growing methods found that organic cotton recorded lower yields than conventional cotton growing methods (University of California, 2006, via cottonaustralia.com.au)

 

How Much Water Does Organic Cotton Use?

Below we outline the type of water organic cotton might use compared to regular cotton at the farming stage and for finished products, and point out the potential improvement in water efficiency that regular cotton might see over time.

 

Compared To Regular Cotton (At Farming Stage)

[Organic cotton can] use far less [irrigated] water to grow [compared to regular cotton] since organic cotton growers typically utilize rain far more than irrigation (swedishlinens.com)

 

Per sourcingjournal.com: With organic cotton, surface and groundwater use falls 91 percent.

 

Having said that, regular cotton might use less irrigated water over time if irrigation systems become more efficient, and genetic engineering can deliver water savings (in the form of engineered water/moisture retention for example)

 

Compared To Regular Cotton For Finished Products

Some sources say organic cotton uses less water

 

Per theguardian.com: Organic cotton production … has a lower net water use because it uses no chemicals.

 

Per sourcingjournal.com:

The notion that chemical cotton uses less water than organic cotton is false

Taking a T-shirt [as an example] to produce it, conventional cotton would use 2,168 gallons of water compared to 186 for organic (a difference of 1,982 gallons).

To make a pair of jeans, conventional cotton would take 9,910 gallons of water compared to 932 with organic (a savings of 8,978 gallons).

 

But, other sources say conventional cotton uses less water than organic cotton.

 

Per qz.com:

It will take you about 290 gallons of water to grow enough conventional, high-yield cotton to produce a t-shirt … [and] To grow the same amount of organic cotton for a t-shirt, however, requires about 660 gallons of water.

… For a pair of jeans, organic takes around 2641 gallons, while regular takes around 1135 gallons of water

… [But, some sources indicate that] organic cotton actually requires less water over time, in large part because soil with more carbon from organic matter stores water better.

But generally a cotton plant requires the same amount of water whether it’s organic or not, and non-organic farmers also use plenty of methods to keep their soil healthy.

 

Per frankandoak.com:

Cotton Inc. reports that it takes 1,098 litres of water to grow enough cotton to make a t-shirt from a conventional cotton plant.

To make the same t-shirt from organic cotton you would need over double that – 2,500 litres of water

 

Cotton Using Irrigation vs Rainfed Cotton

73% of global cotton harvest comes from irrigated land (fashionhedge.com)

 

Per qz.com: … about half of cotton crops globally—organic and conventional—get their water from rainfall.

 

Total Water Use For All Types Of Cotton May Be High

Some sources indicate that all types of cotton use a lot of total water.

 

Per frankandoak.com:

[Given that] One kilogram from cotton fibre (the amount you need to make a pair of jeans) needs between 7,000 and 29,000 litres of water…. [Comparing conventional and organic cotton water use may be a red herring because both of them require …] an enormous amount of water.

[So, we might place more of a focus on the net water footprint of both types of cotton instead, along with how much irrigated water they use from less sustainable water sources]

 

Water Use For Cotton May Be Farm & Geography Dependent

Per sourcingjournal.com: Each [cotton] farm and geographic region of the world will have different water usage and impacts

 

Carbon Footprint Of Organic Cotton

In this section we outline the carbon footprint of organic cotton compared to regular cotton, and also other fibres like polyester (a synthetic fibre).

 

Compared To Regular Cotton

Organic cotton produces around 46% less CO2e compared to conventional cotton (swedishlinens.com)

 

Per sourcingjournal.com: … organic cotton is 46 percent less harmful to global warming [compared to non organic cotton]

 

There is one source though that indicates that the lower yields of organic cotton may lead to higher GHG emissions in some instances.

 

Compared To Both Regular Cotton & Polyester

This guide lists a resource that indicates that organic cotton in both India and the US might have a lower carbon footprint per ton of spun fibre than both conventional cotton and also polyester.

 

Compared To Other Natural Fibres, & Also Synthetic Fibres, In General

In this guide, we list one source that outlines that organic fibres might have both a lower energy footprint and also carbon footprint than other natural fibres, and also synthetic fibres.

 

Energy Use Of Organic Cotton

Compared To Non Organic Cotton

Per sourcingjournal.com: organic cotton can reduce demand for energy by as much as 62 percent [compared to non organic cotton]

 

Compared To Other Natural Fibres, & Also Synthetic Fibres

In this guide, we list one source that outlines that organic fibres might have both a lower energy footprint and also carbon footprint than other natural fibres, and also synthetic fibres.

 

Energy Savings From Reduced Synthetic Pesticide & Fertilizer Use

It’s possible organic agriculture may also make some energy savings from not using synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, which might take a lot of energy to manufacture.

But, this would have to be weighed against the potentially higher amounts of labor and lesser production that organic agriculture may involve in some instances, and whether total energy use from these tradeoffs is a net positive.

 

How Much Synthetic Pesticide Organic Cotton Uses

Instead of synthetic pesticides, organic cotton might place an emphasis on the use of natural or biological forms of pest control, such as integrated pest management.

So, organic cotton may be more sustainable than regular cotton in this regard.

But, it depends on the impact of the pest control substances and methods being used, as not all natural substances are exempt from having negative side effects.

 

[One side effect of cutting synthetic pesticide use might be decreased yields or production:]

… organic [cotton] farmers can save on energy by cutting synthetic pesticides and herbicides [compared to regular cotton], [but] their yield per acre drops (slate.com)

 

How Much Synthetic Fertilizer Organic Cotton Uses

Instead of synthetic fertilizers, organic cotton may place an emphasis on the use of natural fertilizers for nutrients, such as animal manure or compost.

So, organic cotton may be more sustainable than regular cotton in this regard.

But, it depends on the impact of the fertilizer substances and methods being used, as not all natural substances are exempt from having negative side effects.

In the same way we mentioned above that decreased pesticide or herbicide use might lead to decreased yields and production, the same might be true for decreased synthetic fertilizer use. 

 

How Much Cropland Organic Cotton Uses

Below we outline how much land is used for organic cotton, the potential to expand organic cotton crop land, and the relationship between land use and production for organic cotton.

 

Amount Of Hectares & Acres Used

… approximately … 324,577 hectares (802,047 acres) [were used to grow organic cotton] in 2010-2011 (ota.com)

 

… the number of acres planted with organic cotton in the U.S. increased 36 percent from 2009-2010 …

U.S. producers harvested 11,262 acres of organic cotton in 2010, representing 95 percent of planted acres

– ota.com

 

Opportunity To Increase Organic Cotton Land Area

Opportunity exists for significant expansion of U.S. organic acreage most likely in nascent organic cotton-growing regions such as North Carolina, which harvested its first crop of organic cotton in 2011.

– ota.com

 

Land Use vs Production

… organic farms use more land and labor to produce the same amount of produce as conventional agriculture (theconversation.com)

 

How Does Organic Cotton Impact Soil Health, & Soil & Land Degradation

Organic farming practices (or more sustainable farming practices) might place an emphasis on soil health and preventing land and soil degradation via techniques like crop rotation, intercropping, reduced tilling, and adding organic matter to the soil.

As just one example with adding organic matter to the soil, this builds up over time, decomposes, and allows the soil to get a consistent supply of nutrients.

Beneficial insects and beneficial soil bacteria may also thrive when there is enough organic matter for them to feed on and decomposes (along with having other favorable soil conditions).

Crop rotation and reduced tilling may also help with preventing land and soil degradation over the long term.

But, it depends on the individual agricultural practices used by individual cotton farming operations. 

 

Per sourcingjournal.com: With organic cotton, the potential for soil erosion drops 26 percent.

 

Per frankandoak.com:  Conventional cotton might involve … soil loss due to single cultivation [and] organic cotton might involve … good soil maintained through crop rotation

 

How Many Chemicals Does Organic Cotton Use In The Processing Stage?

Certified organic cotton may place more of an emphasis on the use of less hazardous and harmful chemicals during the processing and manufacturing stage.

This might include natural (and less toxic) processing chemicals, dyes, bleaches, printing inks, etc.

It might also include processes like closed loop production that capture and re-use chemicals, or treat wastewater and heavy chemicals before release, so there isn’t as much environmental pollution during the production/manufacturing stage.

Read more about the criteria for certified organic cotton, the different symbols and labels you might find on organic cotton products, and what they each specify about their requirements for the processing stage of organic cotton in this guide.

 

GMO Use By Organic Cotton

A universal standard for organic cotton is that it does not use genetically engineered cotton seeds.

This is in comparison to regular cotton that does use majority GM seeds in some countries.

 

Per triplepundit.com:

Organic cotton places an emphasis on the use of natural cotton seeds over genetically modified cotton seeds.

Some people worry about the effects GMO seeds might have on wildlife, plants and the ecosystem in the future, and on the biodiversity of crops and plants.

 

Biodegradability Of Organic Cotton

Cotton itself is a natural fiber that should biodegrade.

Organic cotton that only contains dyes and inks on it that have met strict biodegradability and toxicity rules should therefore biodegrade.

Organic cotton that is combined or mixed with another fibre in an overall textile product (like for example polyester), may not biodegrade unless it’s separated from this synthetic fibre.

So, biodegradability can depend on whether organic cotton is 100% used by itself or not (and many products contain a mix with other fibres to obtain the beneficial traits of those fibres)

 

Potential Impact Of Organic Cotton On Humans & Human Health, The Environment, & Wildlife

Something we’ve already done is listed conventional cotton may impact humans and human health, the environment and wildlife.

We’ve also put together guides on the features of organic cotton specifically, and also how organic cotton compares to conventional cotton across a range of factors.

In lieu of this information, it’s worth noting that organic cotton may generally have a more positive impact on all of these areas of society compared to regular cotton.

A lot of this has to do with an emphasis on using less harmful pesticides, fertilizers, and processing chemicals and process – all of which might reduce the toxicity and pollution from the growing and processing of cotton.

It is worth noting though that not all naturally derived chemicals are sure to be completely safe and non harmful for humans, and even wildlife.

Another area where there may be more of a negative impact on humans from the production of organic cotton is to do with the standards required for certified organic cotton, and also the labor and processes that result from those standards.

There can be more administrative work required by both certification bodies and those producing and selling organic cotton, and there might be more labor or more intensive labor required at both the farm and processing levels.

The use of renewable cotton seeds compared to non renewable GM cotton seeds provided by big companies may also provide some benefits to do with more independence and control over their business for farmers.

There can be potential economic consequences for organic cotton too – we discuss and outlines these potential consequences below.

 

Some feedback by other sources on the potential impact of organic cotton:

 

On Humans

Per thegreenhubonline.com:

Organic cotton has less of a reliance on non natural resources, and more reliance on the natural land, soil etc

This lessened reliance decreases some costs, and creates more independence for farmers

Organic cotton seeds that are renewable may help developing country farmers recover debt with more consistency over the long term and give them a better chance of success for their farming operations

 

On Environment & Wildlife

Per sourcingjournal.com: [of all cotton production methods] organic cotton [production] has the lowest environmental impact as it doesn’t use any toxic chemicals or genetically modified seeds.

 

Per textileexchange.org:

Textile Exchange found Organic farming (before actual production) was “significantly more environmentally friendly”.

It also found that organic cotton farming is less likely to contribute to global warming, acidification, and eutrophication than conventional cotton farming.

 

Organic cotton results in 70 percent less acidification of land and water (sourcingjournal.com)

 

Potential Economic Impact Of Organic Cotton

Below we outline the potential value of organic cotton as an industry and also the associated sales and demand, the labor and prices involved with organic cotton, subsidies and funding, 

 

Value Of The Organic Cotton Industry, & Value Of Organic Cotton Sales

Global sales of organic cotton products totaled $15.76 billion in 2015 (sourcingjournal.com)

 

…  global sales of organic cotton apparel and home textile products reached an estimated $5.16 billion in 2010.

This reflects a 20 percent increase from the 2009 market.

– organiccottonplus.com

 

… [from 2008 to 2009] sales of organic cotton fiber grew 10.4 percent (to $521 million) … (business-ethics.com)

 

In 2011, organic fiber sales in the United States grew by 17.1 percent over the previous year, to reach $708 million …

The future looks promising, with organic fiber products appearing in more mainstream outlets, led by large and small U.S. textile retailers alike.

– ota.com

 

[Overall, U.S. organic cotton production in increasing because of] consumer and corporate demand, price premiums, and regulatory shifts that facilitate clear labeling for organic cotton products (ota.com)

 

Employment In Organic Cotton

Above in this guide, we mentioned that over 200,000 farmers currently grow organic cotton.

Not only are the workers that work on those farms, but there’s also associated employment up and down the supply chain, including but not limited to the regulation and certification of organic cotton, processing and manufacturing, retail workers, and transport.

 

Labor & Price

… organic farms use more land and labour to produce the same amount of produce as conventional agriculture.

That’s the major reason [consumers] pay more for organic products.

– theconversation.com

 

[The subsidies that regular cotton receives while not paying for the potential environmental and social costs it creates, is one reason organic cotton might be more expensive than regular cotton]

The question isn’t why organic ‘costs’ more, it should be why conventional production is allowed to avoid taking responsibility for so many costs

– triplepundit.com

 

Subsidies & Funding

In the US:

The Farm Act has been increasing the spending on organic agriculture, reaching $100 million in research, $15 million in program enforcement and $57.5 million in certification funding for small producers in 2014

These are huge increases from 2002 levels – so this is a positive indicator for organic agriculture like organic cotton

– fashionhedge.com

 

Profit & Feasibility Of Organic Cotton

It’s possible that in some regions of the world, it may currently be hard to make a profit with organic cotton according to some sources.

 

It has been proven to be uneconomical to grow organic cotton in Australia (cottonaustralia.com.au)

 

Economic Benefits Of Natural Fibres In General

One source indicates that fibres coming from natural fibres in general and crops provide a number of potential economic and practical benefits.

Plant and crop based fibres may be the only type of fibre that can be produced in some regions of the world, and might offer other benefits too, such as being able to be grown alongside or in rotation with another plant, crop, or other agricultural product.

 

Growth Of Organic Cotton Industry, & Increased Use Of Certified Organic Cotton

Below we look at how companies and retailers might be using organic cotton, and also how certified cotton might be expanding in use.

 

Companies & Retailers Increasing Use Of Organic Cotton

[Big brands like] C&A, H&M, Tchibo, Inditex and Nike [are expected to grow in their volume usage of organic cotton in the coming years]

[the organic cotton market will mature] to building the market for organic products through certification and labeling …

– sourcingjournal.com

 

Apparel companies are developing programs that either use 100 percent organically grown cotton, or blend small percentages of organic cotton with conventional cotton in their products.

There are a number of companies driving the expanded use of domestic and international organic cotton.

[There is a list of] OTA members with products containing organic fiber at http://www.ota.com/]

– ota.com

 

More and more retailers, like C&A, which topped Textile Exchange’s 2014 Report for volume of organic cotton use, are incorporating organic cotton into their supply chains.

– triplepundit.com

 

Growth Of Certified Cotton

GOTS certified organic cotton facilities are growing …

The number of facilities certified to GOTS shows an increase of 8.2%, from 4,642 facilities in 2016 to 5,024 facilities in 2017

– organic-market.info

 

Companies are increasingly becoming certified to traceability standards such as the Organic Exchange (OE) Blended or OE 100 standard, tracing the organic fiber from the field to finished product.

Many manufacturers have also become certified to the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), which addresses textile’s processing stages and includes strong labor provisions.

– ota.com

 

Challenges For The Organic Cotton Industry

Organic cotton might face some different challenges to conventional cotton.

 

Below are some paraphrased challenges that we’ve pulled from the triplepundit.cm resource:

[The cost of organic cotton to produce – and this can create a domino effect making it more difficult for organic cotton to increase it’s market share compared to conventional cotton]

[The price of organic cotton to buy for consumers]

[Consumer level awareness of what organic cotton is, and why it might be worth the extra price]

Control of inputs like seeds are put into the hands of a few big companies — organic seeds are difficult to procure and distribute to farmers. Even when they are available, getting them to farmers in developing countries where most cotton currently comes from is a challenge

Building the capacity of small farmers to be able to go to organic farming and receive necessary certifications

… the timeliness of payment and market access are not always strong enough to offset the risk of investment made by the farmer

[It can be difficult to establish long term relationships with suppliers that ensure quality and transparency, and consistent or increased supply of more organic cotton]

 

The cottonaustralia.com.au resource in the sources list outlines some more potential challenges and shortcomings to do with organic cotton

 

How The Organic Cotton Industry Might Be Able To Improve

Again, we are paraphrasing from the triplepundit.com resource here.

But, some potential ways to improve practices and aspects of the organic cotton industry might involve:

… [to ensure success, companies and brands] need to work with suppliers to ensure both quality and transparency along the entire chain [and] That includes working with initiatives like the Organic Cotton Roundtable to build farmer capacity to produce more organic cotton. Companies that understand this are the ones who will benefit

[Essentially, sourcing should] involve a more direct relationship with producers, with longer term commitments that incentivize cotton farmers to go organic

… customer demand for organic cotton [is also essential …] – If more companies see a market for organic clothing products, then this can help address the challenges facing organic cotton all along its supply chain. Raising consumer awareness about the benefits of organic cotton is therefore very important

With more impetus from companies, greater consumer demand and increased advocacy from organizations like Textile Exchange – organic cotton can continue to grow

Read more in the triplepundit.com resources about both potential challenges and improvements relating to the organic cotton industry.

 

Case Study Of Smallholder Organic Cotton Farming

Cambridge did a case study of ‘organic cotton production on the livelihood of smallholder farmers in Odisha, India’.

A summary of what they found from farmers who converted to organic cotton farming was:

… farmers profit from organic agriculture, mainly due to soil improvements, through reduced exposure to toxic chemicals and lower input costs, which in turn reduces dependency on money lenders.

Organic agriculture enables smallholder farmers in the study region to improve their livelihood by providing access to training and by organizing in groups.

Important social impacts identified in this study were capacity building and strengthened communities, through training and institution building.

However, a higher workload, due to the higher work intensity of organic farming practices, was also observed, with this impacting women more than men.

Environmental conditions and gender aspects still remain challenging.

– cambridge.org

 

Sources

1. https://www.swedishlinens.com/blogs/news/organic-vs-conventional-cotton 

2. https://slate.com/technology/2011/04/hemp-versus-cotton-which-is-better-for-the-environment.html 

3. Various BMR Resources

4. https://theconversation.com/gm-crops-can-benefit-organic-farmers-too-51318  

5. http://aboutorganiccotton.org/

6. https://qz.com/990178/your-organic-cotton-t-shirt-might-be-worse-for-the-environment-than-regular-cotton/

7. https://organiccottonplus.com/pages/learning-center

8. https://sourcingjournal.com/topics/raw-materials/report-truth-organic-cotton-impacts-68512/

9. https://www.ota.com/sites/default/files/indexed_files/Organic-Cotton-Facts.pdf

10. http://business-ethics.com/2010/08/07/1438-the-bad-side-of-cotton/

11. https://www.triplepundit.com/special/cotton-sustainability-c-and-a-foundation/the-challenges-to-expanding-organic-cotton/

12. https://fashionhedge.com/2015/03/12/the-truth-about-organic-cotton/

13. http://organic-market.info/news-in-brief-and-reports-article/gots-certified-facilities-increase-82-in-2017.html

14. https://textileexchange.org/downloads/life-cycle-assessment-of-organic-cotton/

15. https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2015/mar/20/cost-cotton-water-challenged-india-world-water-day

16. https://thegreenhubonline.com/2018/05/08/why-should-we-choose-organic-cotton/

17. https://www.frankandoak.com/handbook/style/organic-cotton-pros-cons

18. https://cottonaustralia.com.au/organic-cotton

19. Altenbuchner, C., Vogel, S., & Larcher, M. (2018). Social, economic and environmental impacts of organic cotton production on the livelihood of smallholder farmers in Odisha, India. Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems, 33(4), 373-385. doi:10.1017/S174217051700014X – https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/renewable-agriculture-and-food-systems/article/social-economic-and-environmental-impacts-of-organic-cotton-production-on-the-livelihood-of-smallholder-farmers-in-odisha-india/922E6662E3D82E3B34CA119BC43F6F4A

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