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LONDON – Leading international apparel brands are moving rapidly towards cotton standards such as organic and Better Cotton – despite any clear evidence that such standards are more sustainable than conventional cotton. A major research project carried out on behalf of Apparel Insider crunched existing life cycle analysis (LCA) and other historical data relating to cotton and, particularly, comparisons made between different types of cotton production methods.

Among other things, the research found:

  • There is no clear and unambiguous evidence that either Cotton Made in Africa grown cotton or organic consume less water when grown under the same conditions as conventional cotton.
  • The most up to date research, commissioned by the C&A Foundation, found organic cotton consumed 15 per cent more bluewater than conventional cotton based on the experiences of cotton farmers in Madhya Pradesh, India
  • Many of the comparisons between different cotton production methods are focused on LCA data which, according to ISO standards, cannot be used – in isolation – to make comparative sustainability claims. This is because social and economic impact analysis (SEIA) must also be considered
  • Many bands contacted by Apparel Insider appeared unable to provide any evidence of why they are shifting away from conventional cotton and showed a limited understanding of the issues at play – despite signing up to high profile initiatives such as the 2025 Sustainable Cotton Challenge
  • Many studies which compare cotton production methods take livestock inputs to be burden free, despite the fact that this is a major issue for organic cotton, due to the importance of cattle manure and urine being used as fertilisers and pesticides
  • The UK House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee (EACOM) has recommended that the Government should reform taxation to reward fashion companies which move from conventional to organic cotton – a recommendation based solely on Textile Exchange’s organic cotton Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) report. No SEIA was considered
  • The existing data which makes comparisons between cotton standards and conventionally grown cotton is limited, out of date and fails to account for improvements which have been made to conventional cotton production methods in recent years

The next edition of Apparel Insider magazine will include a special 6-page report on this critical issue, including responses by leading cotton standards and international apparel brands.

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