By Phil Wakelyn
Historically, hand harvesting has been the method of harvest and still is in most of the world outside of the U.S.A. and Australia. Whether cotton is mechanically or hand harvested, handling and storage of seed cotton is especially important, if fiber and seed quality are to be maintained.
In the 21st century cotton production will need to be more efficient with significant improvement in both yields and fiber quality for cotton to continue to be the important textile fiber it is today. To accomplish this harvest preparation, mechanical harvesting, and ginning will most likely all have to continue to evolve. Harvest preparation will become more important and increasingly more cotton will be mechanically harvested. Pressures on the world cotton industry will be more and more towards mechanical harvesting as labor becomes more expensive and land ownership changes. Mechanical harvesting and ginning as it is done in the U.S.A. and Australia produces some of the cleanest, most trash -free cotton produced in the world, according to ITMF surveys.
The world model for harvesting and ginning will very likely grow to resemble the U.S.A. model more closely with modifications due to local economic or cultural influences. Cotton Incorporated has recently put important information on harvesting and ginning on its website (http://www.cottoninc.com/ ; August 2010) under ‘Resources', information on ‘Cotton Harvest Systems'. For up-to-date specific information on U.S.A. practices for mechanical (both spindle-picked and stripper) harvesting of cotton and handling and storage of seed cotton, see http://www.cottoninc.com/Cotton-Harvest-Systems/ (accessible August 2010). This information was compiled by Edward M. Barnes, Ph.D., Director, Agricultural Research, Cotton Incorporated (email: email@example.com ) with help from many USDA and University research and extension people.
Convert used denim, other use cotton garments to cellulose insulation thus reducing greenhouse gases
By Phil Wakelyn
Cotton plays a role in reducing greenhouse gasses that contribute to global warming. Cotton plants, like all plants, extract carbon dioxide (CO2) from the air and emit oxygen back into the atmosphere. The world cotton crop removes about 36 million MT of CO2 annually. This is equivalent to taking 7 million cars off the road. Cotton sequesters this carbon for the life of the product. So if the cotton product is recycled or reused, such as in cellulose insulation, and not put in a landfill, it can probably sequester the carbon for 50 to 100 years.
Retailers are developing programs that will allow their customers to trade in their unwanted clothes. These products then can be recycled or reused rather than being a landfill waste product.
Cotton insulation can be made from post-industrial recycled cotton textiles, such as denim. The benefits of cotton insulation is that it doesn't require any warning labels, no respiratory or other safety equipment is required, it retains its r-value in colder conditions, has superior acoustical properties, and requires less energy to manufacture [see http://www.greenerbuilding.org/buying_advice.php?cid=39 ].
Several programs for producing cotton insulation to consider are:
Cotton Inc.: Cotton. From Blue To Green.®; Changing the World One Pair of Jeans at a Time; http://www.cottoninc.com/PressReleases/?articleID=491
Natural cotton fiber insulation: [Bonded Logic http://www.bondedlogic.com/ ]; http://www.ecowise.com/green/insul/index.shtml ; and
Green jeans insulation: http://greenjeansinsulation.com/?gclid=CKvjw_axgZ4CFaM45Qodpk93pg
By Phil Wakelyn
An important component of becoming ‘more sustainable' is recycle and reuse, i.e., to prevent as much waste as possible from a textile manufacturer or cut and sew operation's waste from going to a landfill. Apparel industry professionals say that about 15 to 20 percent of the fabric used to produce clothing winds up in the nation's landfills because it's cheaper to dump the scraps than to recycle them. An article in the Aug 15, 2010 Sunday New York Times discusses zero-waste design [Fashion Tries on Zero Waste Design; http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/15/fashion/15waste.html ]. Zero-waste design strives to create clothing patterns that leave no scraps of fabric on the cutting room floor. It is a way to eliminate millions of tons of solid waste a year going to landfills.
A small group of designers has spent a few years quietly experimenting with innovative design techniques -- some of their ideas are starting to penetrate the mainstream. Parsons the New School for Design will offer one of the world's first fashion courses in zero waste. Students in the new Parsons class will try to figure out how to create zero-waste jeans without compromising style and to make jeans more sustainable in their post-retail life (i.e., rethinking how jeans are cared for and disposed of). The book "Shaping Sustainable Fashion: Changing the Way We Make and Use Clothes," by Alison Gwilt and Timo Rissanen, will be published in February 2011; an exhibition of zero-waste fashions will be held in New Zealand next spring and in New York the following fall; and in March 2011, an exhibition, "No Waste/Zero Waste" will open at the Averill and Bernard Leviton A + D Gallery in Chicago, part of Columbia College Chicago.
A way to eliminate waste is to create a garment pattern - with gussets, pockets, collars and trims - that fits together like a puzzle or to simply not cut the fabric at all, but drape it directly onto a mannequin, then tuck, layer and sew. But these techniques have not made much headway with large manufacturers, partly because of the costs and existing infrastructure. Sustainable design does not necessarily cost more, but overhauling a factory is expensive not practical. Another dilemma is that a fashion label can't sacrifice style for sustainability.
Few brands or retailers are powerful enough to bring about a supply line reinvention. An exception may be Wal-Mart. In 2008, they set forth a long-term goal of zero waste in all its stores, yet even for Wal-Mart, that goal is far from being realized.
Question: What efforts are you making to reduce cutting waste?
By Phil Wakelyn
Plans by companies to help their suppliers track their energy, materials use, and carbon use has become a trend among corporate multinationals according to a recent article if Fortune Magazine. ["The surprising success of the green supply chain", by John F. Wasik, Aug 13, 2010; [http://money.cnn.com/2010/08/13/news/companies/corporate_sustainability.fortune/index.htm ]. This is one year after Wal-Mart launched a plan to help its suppliers track energy and carbon emissions. However, this trend appears not to be purely out of love for the environment -- the slow- or no-growth economy is another driver. In addition, lower energy and resource costs translate into higher profits. And some consumers and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are demanding more corporate responsibility in the post-BP world.
Some companies are even taking a more comprehensive approach beyond carbon footprinting into lifecycle analysis (LCA). LCA features a "cradle-to-grave" examination and is helpful in determining the impact of your product on the environment. With sustainability and cost savings as goals some companies have some adventuresome goals in place. Companies need to examine all facets of their business in the current business climate. Congress has not passed energy or climate legislation and are not likely to this year but companies will continue to seed "green" supply programs on their own since reduced inputs mean reduced costs and to conform to tougher European and other standards.
Question: Are you finding that being ‘more sustainable' is more profitable?
Cotton Connect a program to work with retailers and brands to make the world’s cotton supply chains more sustainable
By Phil Wakelyn
Cotton Connect is a new for-profit organization with a social purpose: to work with retailers and brands to make the world's cotton supply chains more sustainable. Cotton Connect is an independent business, created by a collaboration between C&A - a leading Retailer in Europe, Organic Exchange- a Texas based NGO and the pioneer behind the organic cotton movement and Shell Foundation - a UK charity specializing in seeding and incubating enterprise-based solutions to development and quality-of-life issues. There are a number of sustainable cotton standards that exist. Cotton Connect is standard neutral and does not create ‘sustainable' cotton standards ourselves. They promote and work with the following organizations: Fairtrade, Organic Exchange, Cotton made in Africa, and Better Cotton Initiative (BCI).
Cotton Connect is neutral on organic cotton and biotech and is a member of BCI. They are currently an implementation partner for BCI in Southeast Asia (India) with Indian cotton farmers.
They work sustainability into a company's cotton supply chain by linking all the stakeholders from farm to consumer. Their approach is scalable and practical for businesses of all types and sizes.Cotton Connect will support retailers /brands within their supply chains to:
- Define sustainable cotton strategies, catered around each client's performance objectives and standards.
- Connect and transform the different stages of cotton production and manufacturing to deliver ethical, effective and efficient supply chains.
To do this Cotton Connect will work with a wide range of organizations active in the sustainable cotton space - creating momentum for change through strategic partnerships to maximize social and environmental impact across the world.
By Phil Wakelyn
There are several cotton programs in the world working to create awareness about the use of chemicals and about optimal use other inputs, including energy and irrigation water. The BetterCotton Initiative (www.bettercotton.org ) is one of the array of programs. Leading apparel brands are part of this 6 year program to help transform the cotton market and make sustainable cotton a commercially viable commodity.
The BCI aims to make global cotton production better for the people who produce it, better for the environment it grows in and better for the sector's future. The BCI plans to initiate global change in the mass market, with long-term benefits for the environment, farmers and other people dependent on cotton for their livelihood. The BCI's philosophy is to develop a market for a new mainstream commodity: ‘Better Cotton' and thereby transform the cotton commodity to bring long-term benefits for the environment, farmers and other people dependent on cotton for their livelihood. It is intended also to ensure that water use is optimized (both irrigated and rain-fed) and obtained legally without adversely affecting groundwater or water bodies. Minimum tillage of soil and the use of cover and rotation crops will also be addressed. The BCI has a target to produce 300,000 tons of cotton by 2012.
No certification or label will be required and the cotton will not sell at a premium to conventional cotton. Unlike organic cotton, the BCI allows the minimal use of pesticides and biotech cottons can be grown and BCI will ensure they are used safely and responsibly. The general assumption is that the market for organic cotton will remain very small and there is a need for initiatives that will lower the impact of conventional cotton production.
The BCI charter was developed through a collaborative multi-stakeholder approach involving global buyers of cotton products to grow the demand for larger amounts of ‘better cotton‘. These components will complete a Better Cotton System that BCI will start implementing in the 2010 growing season. Cotton projects in India, Pakistan, West Africa, and Brazil are part of the current program. Key dates and goals:
2009 - Better Cotton Production Principles and Minimum Production Criteria Agreed
2010 - First Better Cotton harvest (Oct 2010 onwards)
2012 - Full evaluation of the Better Cotton System and results
2015 -- Production of one million metric tons of BCI Cotton -- BCI has an objective of accounting for 300,000 t of cotton production by 2012 and expand its membership to include firms representing 1,000,000 t of retail level cotton consumption by 2015.
Levi‘s, Marks & Spencer, IKEA and H&M Fast Track program to help transform the cotton market and make sustainable cotton a commercially viable commodity
By Phil Wakelyn
Leading apparel brands such as Levi‘s, Marks & Spencer, IKEA and H&M have embarked on a six year, Fast Track program to help transform the cotton market and make sustainable cotton a commercially viable commodity. The labels have teamed up with the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI), Rabobank, the Dutch Sustainable Trade Initiative and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) to help change the sector through a demand driven approach based on a retail commitment to bring sustainable cotton into their consumer products (jeans, household textiles, furniture and interior decorations). Of the 27.2 million MT (30 million tons) of global cotton production, the program aims to ensure the by 2015, significantly reducing the footprint of cotton production and improving the lives of hundreds of thousands of poor farmers. Part of the program, which will see around €20 million (US$26 million) invested over the next five years, is a highly innovative Fast Track Fund established by IDH, ICCO and Rabobank to match private investments in BCI cotton production from retailers, brands and other private players for farmer support programs to produce sustainable cotton. The fund is accessible to companies who aim for 100% sustainable sourcing.
By Phil Wakelyn
North Carolina State University (NCSU) College of Textile Technology and the Institute of Textile Technology (ITT) have founded the Council for Economically Sustainable Textile and Apparel Business (CESTAB) to provide information, analyses and resources to foster sustainable social, economic and environmental practices within the global textile supply chain. Since sustainability has become one of the most pressing issues facing the textile industry, ITT, in collaboration with the NCSU College of Textiles, is attempting to provide much needed leadership for the textile industry in addressing sustainability issues in a scientific and consistent manner. CESTAB will provide resources to textile supply chain participants with the aim of providing a uniform approach to addressing sustainability issues; conduct scientific research to fill in gaps in the textile sustainability knowledge base; and offer and foster undergraduate, graduate and continuing education programs for textile supply chain participants and the public.
Question: What questions are textile mills and retailers asking their supplier regarding sustainability?
By Phil Wakelyn
Long term sustainable cotton production depends on use of best management practices and scientifically sound technologies adapted to local geographic and climatologic conditions. Cotton is produced in over 100 countries under a diversity of production practices. The goal of sustainable cotton production should be to produce the best quality textile fibers, edible oils and proteins with the lowest environmental impact in an economically feasible and socially responsible manner. The most sustainable choices of production practices are the ones for which the net effects come closest to meeting those goals. The goals for cotton production and textile processing are to turn out more sustainable products: to reduce water use, energy use, and chemical use, while adopting safer chemicals and minimizing the release of inputs into the environment (air, water, solid waste).
Organic cotton production is not more sustainable than current conventional cotton production as organic cotton production may require more land, more water and more labor to produce the same amount of cotton, and the cost of production can be higher.
Fiber source is a major consideration for a more sustainable textile. Cotton produced in the U.S. can be considered a ‘more sustainable' fiber. Cotton uses sunlight and converts it directly to a fiber without intermediate processing steps. Cotton is a natural rapidly-renewable fiber produced with reduced chemical inputs because of integrated pest management (IPM) and biotechnology. It uses less energy, water and land compared to 10 years ago and conservation tillage and other eco-friendly practices. Conservation tillage reduces nitrogen emissions into the atmosphere. Cotton is a carbon sink crop because the amount of CO2 sequestered in the fiber and soil is greater than the amount of CO2 emitted into the atmosphere. According to some estimates, the amount of CO2 removed from the atmosphere by cotton farming worldwide is equivalent to taking seven million cars off the road.
Cotton has obvious environmental and sustainability advantages over petroleum-based synthetic fibers (e.g., polyester, nylon, polypropylene).
Question: What questions do manufacturers and retailers ask their supplier regarding the sustainability of cotton?