Sustainable Cotton is the New ‘Better’ Organic Cotton


organic cottonOrganic cotton is being upstaged by sustainable cotton, at least if you ask American companies like Levi’s, H&M, and Ikea.

Environmentally conscious shoppers have long been aware of how important it is to buy organic cotton. While cotton could be a far more sustainable choice than synthetic fibers, given its renewability, cotton is widely considered the world’s dirtiest crop: conventional cotton cultivation is the reason behind 17.5 percent of global insecticide sales and ten percent of all agricultural chemicals used worldwide, according to the Sustainable Trade Initiative. It also accounts for 2.6 percent of the water footprint for all goods and services consumed globally, and since cotton accounts for 40 percent of the global textile production, that’s no small problem.

But organic cotton, while widely available, is just plain expensive. Organic cotton costs about $2.20 per pound versus about 0.61 cents per pound for conventional, so it’s no surprise that shoppers often balk at the price of organic cotton clothing — and that less than one percent of the world’s cotton production is organic.

Thankfully, an alternative has presented itself in the form of sustainable cotton.

The Better Cotton Initiative was developed in 2005 for the express purpose of making sustainable cotton more accessible to both buyers and  farmers. Farmers who sign on to the Better Cotton Initiative are taught to grow cotton using less pesticides and water than traditional cotton, all the while keeping prices in check for consumers.

“That’s one of the aims, to make Better Cotton mainstream and make it available for the masses,” Ulrika Hvistendahl, sustainability spokeswoman for Ikea, told Bloomberg. Ikea uses one percent of the world’s cotton. Better Cotton made up 70 percent of Ikea’s cotton usage in 2015.

Better Cotton is made with certain Production and Principles Criteria in mind, including minimizing the harmful impact of crop production, efficient water use, conservation of natural habitats, and the promotion of Decent Work. It offers a halfway mark between the strict conditions and high prices of organic cotton and the unsustainable alternative.

Today, Better Cotton accounts for about 12 percent of global cotton production (versus 0.5 percent for organic cotton), and it’s the majority of cotton being used by companies like Nike and H&M.

Levi Strauss & Co. is an Implementing Partner with Better Cotton, reflecting both the company’s sustainability goals and its long history with the cotton industry.

“Becoming a Pioneer Member of BCI this year reflects our company’s commitment since 2009 to transform how cotton is cultivated for our business, our consumers, and the millions of people in some of the world’s poorest countries who depend on it for their livelihood,” Manuel Baigorri, director of global sustainability operations for Levi Strauss & Co, told Triple Pundit.

And Better Cotton continues to grow. The goal is to reach five million farmers and 30 percent of global cotton production by 2020, making sustainable cotton an even more attainable goal for eco-conscious shoppers.

Related on EcoSalon
Follow the ‘Cotton Road’: The Fashion Industry’s Unflattering Supply Chain
Don’t Get Caught Wearing Non-Organic Cotton Around Neil Young
Sustainable Fashion Designers Changing the Game

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Emily Monaco