In a new report the Soil Association says that switching to organic cotton could reduce the global warning impact of cotton production by 46% compared to non-organic cotton.
Organic cotton would also reduce consumption of scarce fresh water by over 90% and energy use by over 60%. The association also claims that cotton production could release 300 million tonnes of CO2e by 2020 if current practices remain unchecked.
Cotton is known as the world’s dirtiest crop because of its heavy use of insecticides and water, high greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and land use. In 2013/14, 26 million tonnes of cotton was produced globally, on around 33 million hectares of land in a hundred countries, using 2.5% of the world’s farmland. As well as GHG emissions, cotton is responsible for 16% of global insecticide use – more than any other crop. Globally, cotton production releases 220 million tonnes of CO2e, and one tonne of non-organic cotton produces 1.8 tonnes of CO2e.
The report goes on to explain that based on scientific research into the environmental impact of organic cotton, the organic cotton produced in 2013/14 saved the equivalent of nearly 95,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools of freshwater compared to non-organic. The energy saved could have kept a 60 watt lightbulb going for over 57,000 years, and the reduction in GHG emissions was the equivalent of driving a car around the world over 14,000 times.
The demand for organic cotton is growing. In 2014, the global market for organic cotton grew by 67% and is now worth an estimated $15.7 billion. In the UK, sales of Soil Association certified textiles rose 3.4% to £18.6 million in 2014. Global production of organic cotton is estimated to increase by 15 to 20% in 2014/15.
A long-term study in India found that yields of organic cotton were just 14% lower but costs were 38% lower, meaning organic cotton is as or more profitable than non-organic. Organic cotton farmers have to grow a range of crops, as in all organic systems, so as well as avoiding illness due to pesticide use, they are more self-sufficient in food.