Sustainable Fashion

Everything you want to know about the sustainability of the textile and fashion industry

Difference Between Organic and Sustainable Cotton

In recent years, producers, brands and consumers are looking for cotton that checks off all the boxes and represents the gold standard. The term that is being used in this debate is mainly referred to as “preferred” or “preferred cotton (pCotton)”. It is also used in connection with other materials such as “preferred synthetic fiber”.

An important point to be made is to understand the difference between sustainable and organic cotton, and how the combination of both principles, i.e., sustainably organic cotton, allows for an ideal end result: organic cotton produced sustainably and under fair trade conditions.

Organic cotton refers to cotton produced by certified organic standards only, such as GOTS, OCS, NATURTEXTIL MN and other standards in the IFOAM Family of Standards; these standards include cotton grown from non-GMO seeds and without the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers. However, organic certification does not cover the the additional issues of cultivation and farming practices which impact the environment and population, such as emissions, biodiversity and employee working conditions.

Sustainable cotton refers to cotton production which takes these numerous impacts into consideration, with the aim of reducing negative impacts and supporting positive outcomes in an ideally holistic manner; this includes the entire cotton lifecycle such as the sustainable use of recycled cotton. Needless to say, sustainable cotton is inclusive of organically produced cotton due to the beneficial requirements in organic cultivation practices.

Currently, the global cotton production is 22% more sustainable, and the movement towards using sustainable cotton is on the rise. There are many ongoing initiatives enforcing the need for the transition towards sustainable production practices and uses in the textile and garment industry.

In 2017, the 2025 Sustainable Cotton Challenge (SCC) was established with the purpose of encouraging and accelerating the use of sustainable cotton and achieving an overarching goal to have over 50% of the world’s cotton produced using more sustainable growing practices by 2025. Industry players joining the 2025 SCC commit to sourcing sustainable cotton from multiple recognized organic and sustainable initiatives, and by adhering to these standards, are establishing themselves as a positive influence for the movement at large.

To take a closer look and compare the currently available initiatives supporting sustainable cotton production practices, the Textile Exchange developed the Sustainable Cotton Matrix in which environmental impacts, financial relations and ethical considerations are considered and detailed. This transparent platform can be used by industry players as well as consumers on better understanding the strategies involved and ultimately foster better decision making.

Similarly, the initiative Cotton 2040 was set up to bring together all industry players across the value chain with the common goal of increasing the progress and impact of current sustainable cotton programs.

In addition to these, there are other initiatives and programs joining the sustainable cotton movement:

However, often it remains unclear how these pledges and initiatives are being regularly monitored and what will happen if these ambitious goals are not successfully achieved.

For more information about preferred materials and preferred cotton, please refer to the Textile Exchange report “Preferred Fiber and Materials Market Report 2020”.

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