Pros & Cons of Organic Cotton

 

When examining the pros and cons of organic cotton, a few points stand out immediately. 

Other factors of organic cotton pros and cons can come down to factors such as the country where it is grown,  the individual farm it is grown on, the supply chain it is a part of, and how it’s shipped to name a few.

Let’s take a look at some of the pros and cons involved.

Cons

 

 

 

Organic cotton typically costs more than conventional cotton.   How much can vary greatly. 

Several reasons can cause organic cotton to be more expensive.  Organic cotton is grown using non-GMO (Genetically Modified Organisms) seeds which can cost more;  other materials that farmers use for organically grown crops can also cost more.

Organic farming is more labor-intensive (because the use of pesticides and chemicals is prohibited).  For this reason, organic farmers typically hand-hoe their crops to remove and prevent any weed growth during the crop season. 

 

Source:  Photo courtesy of Gallant International

Organically grown cotton plants can also produce less yield per acre than conventionally-grown cotton.  So,  because of this in the equation of supply and demand, there is less organic cotton per se because of the lesser amount of the yield-this also helps to drive the price up. 

With lower yields, organic cotton can be viewed as less efficient  (more land to yield and revenue ratio-wise). The difference in yields can be anywhere from single-digit to low double-digit's.  However, under certain conditions (weather, for example) and with good management, organic systems can more or less match conventional yields. 

As methods and techniques of organic farming evolve, improve, and business commitments are made to bulk orders and supporting organic agriculture, the cost gap is being driven down.

Greenwashing

 

 

 

Greenwashing is when a company tries to give itself a more environmentally conscious face than it has.  This has become more prevalent recently because consumers have become more aware of manufacturing practices and thus place value on sustainable and organic products, services, and practices.  

Brands are competing to jump on what they perceive as a trend.  They often try to outdo each other with “eco” credentials in the frenzy to be seen as “green”.  

The appalling thing is the fact that companies can exaggerate their claims or just make stuff up.   Daniel Carson, professor of marketing at Drexel University, studied greenwashing and says of it (quote) “social and environmental responsibility should not be a competitive sport". 

Source: Photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash

Not every company can serve themselves up as the guys with the smallest carbon footprint or the ones that donated the most to charity.  

The consulting firm, The Choice, studied the phenomenon found that the majority of products marketed as eco-friendly were guilty of some form of greenwashing.   To what extent varied from using weak information to support data, to flat-out lying,  bragging of fake certifications. 

Greenwashing has gone through the roof lately with more and more companies broadcasting positive communication about their environmental practices and their environmental performance.  

Regulators are having a hard time controlling this;  in 2012 the Federal Trade Commission put out guidelines for companies called Green Guides as guard rails to keep marketing claims real, to validate claims of positive environmental effects, and make sure claims truthful and not deceptive.  

Apparently, despite the best efforts by the FTC, reviews of recent reports turn up a lot of circumstances where companies displayed environmental exaggeration. 

 

 

  

A common form of greenwashing is to just simply to claim without backing it up. Lululemon, an apparel maker in the athletic/yoga space,  developed a line of clothes that they claimed were made with seaweed. 

These items supposedly had health benefits like releasing amino acids, vitamins, and minerals into the skin. An independent lab study found no meaningful difference between that line of clothing and their regular cotton t-shirts. 

After being pressured by regulators in Canada (where they're based) the company stopped marketing the line.

Another example of greenwashing is a company promoting a small act of environmental goodness in the hope that people forget about their other environmental bad doings. 

An example is the fashion chain H&M.  They currently have a sustainable line called “Conscious”.  This is all well and good but not too long ago they were called out for making false claims about using organic cotton in their eco-friendly range. 

Media reports said that H&M used genetically modified cotton in an eco-friendly collection; the environmental group Greenpeace called for a legal investigation into the matter claiming that some of the products being labeled as organic were not organic and calling it major malpractice and Consumer Fraud. 

Source : Photo by Anna Tarazevich from Pexels

One of the claims of the defense was that in the given farming situation, there are a lot of small farms cultivating a variety of crops, some organic and some conventional/genetically modified cotton. 

As a result, crop contamination occurred from one field to another.  Whether or not that was the case, it was a huge setback for the clothing firm because it could not be positively ruled out that what was being sold and marketed as organic was.   

The controversy was not a good thing, obviously, for H&M.  It made them look bad whether or not it was an honest mistake. I'm not going to speculate but the fact of the matter is that their reputation was very damaged by this and consumers were left not knowing what they spent their money on. 

The chain has recently been called out again:

https://www.independent.co.uk/climate-change/news/hm-greenwashing-sustainable-circulose-venetia-falconer-manna-a9312566.html

  

 

 

Converting a conventional farm to an organic farm can be a long and potentially expensive process for farmers unless they get subsidies.

The certifications can take a while and you have to maintain them.

All of those can contribute to short-term risk for farmers as they convert their supply chain and timing to completely work organically.

Despite growing consumer awareness the overall market for organic cotton is still smaller compared to regular cotton

In some areas, organic farming doesn't get the subsidies that regular cotton farming may get.

Non-GMO seeds generally cost more Some think that GMO seeds are better because they pose less risk than organic.

There's also concern that some organic pesticides and fertilizer could be just as harmful as synthetic ones.  For example-manure.  Manure has been used in farming for thousands of years however it's still can be harmful to someone's health and spread disease/bacteria/germs.

 

 

 

Okay first, as a refresher, certified organic cotton is grown without genetically modified seeds or an elements in the production or growth chain and does not use any chemical pesticides or fertilizers.  

Make sure the organic cotton product is GOTS certified.  Based on all the potentially green-washed marketing that is out there, you want to make sure that you're getting actual organic cotton products.  

Look for the GOTS certification- that means that there is a trail, a traceable trail of everything and went into the products production and growth of the fibers in the product.  More about GOTS certification can be found HERE.  

If the product or item is not GOTS certified then I have to say buyer beware. Unless you were there watching the plant grow and then following that plant from growth to the spinning of fibers into the making of the material and then to the making of the final product, how would you ever know for sure?

 

 

 

First off, you're not using the harmful chemical pesticides and fertilizers, which can be very detrimental to the people that are farming the products to the final product itself.  The environment can also be affected, the chemicals can run off into the water table. 

Chemical residue can be left on the plant and taken up into the cotton itself. The chemicals can be ingested by and brought into the plant. 

These toxic chemicals can wreak havoc on biosystems;  some of the compounds that are used as pesticides and fertilizers are carcinogens; these chemicals can contaminate the water supply. 

Source:  Photo courtesy of Gallant International

The people working in these environments come down with respiratory problems and other issues and become sick. The synthetic chemicals can be absorbed by the soil and soil dwellers like microorganisms, worms or beneficial soil bacteria can be wiped out.

Organic cotton causes less water pollution, one reason is it doesn’t use harsh chemicals and poisons-no chance of pesticide drift.  Not using toxic chemicals means no concerns about runoff into the water system.

The dyes used to color fabric can also be harmful.  Certified organic cotton has to be dyed within specific guidelines to be certified organic.  The dyeing method has to be done with friendly chemicals or dyestuff that will not harm you.  The thing to be aware of and watch out for is not every organic cotton garment or item is dyed organically.

That's why your best bet is GOTS certified products.  That means the product is certified organic all the way through, from the way it's grown, to the way it’s processed down the entire product chain.  This includes any dyeing  or coloration methods;  any dyes or coloration solutions used on that product has to be eco-friendly.

 

 

 

The actual amount of water used in organic cotton farming depends on the individual field water system used, but, overall, the whole concept of organic cotton farming supports the idea of thoughtful water usage.   Newer technology combined with traditional farming methods (like rainfed water management  and others) are helping make further strides in this area. Overall, organic cotton used up to 71-91% less water than conventional cotton farming.

Source: Photo by Terry Vlisidis on Unsplash

  

 

 

As a result of all of this in general, organic cotton is better for your skin because there are no toxic dyes, pesticides, or anything involved in any part of the process. 

If you are a person that suffers from allergies or has sensitive skin, or asthma, items that are made with organic cotton will not irritate you.  Organic cotton items are hypoallergenic by nature. 

For these reasons, organic cotton is great and safe for baby clothes and baby items.

 

 

 

Organic cotton textiles are more durable.  This is probably because organic cotton fibers are longer and therefore have a stronger connection with each other than regular cotton fibers. 

Regular cotton fibers also have more of a chance of being damaged because they're being processed with all these chemicals which can ultimately result in lower quality. 

Organic cotton often gives the impression it feels more comfortable and smoother because the longer fibers feel better against your skin.

 

 

 

 

Organic cotton also leaves a smaller carbon footprint. The entire organic process requires less energy and therefore less CO2 is emitted per ton of spun fiber than conventional cotton. CO2 emissions per ton of conventional cotton spun fiber is  5.90 per ton (USA), compared to 3.80 of organic cotton from India and 2.35 per ton organic cotton from the  USA.

Another benefit of GOTS-certified organic cotton is to be GOTS certified, not only are there strict guidelines for the method of cotton planting, harvesting, processing, etc. but there are also social and ethical guidelines in place where workers have access to a safe and fair work environment.

 

Source:  Photo courtesy of Gallant International

At the end of the day, it's up to personal choice to do your research know what your money is being spent on.  I think the heyday of greenwashing is going to be subsiding because now more people are becoming acutely aware of the effects that we're having on our environment and expect brand responsibility and transparency. 

In general, I believe that what we see about how organic cotton is portrayed in brands is more coming from a place of brands knowing that they have a responsibility to do better. I also think it’s coming from a place of understanding that consumers are expecting transparency; that todays’ consumers are much savvier and expect more from their brands.

If you're purchasing clothing or home products such as bedsheets, towels, bathrobes, muslin swaddles or blankets remember that your skin is your biggest organ-consider what you're putting on or next to it.

At Terra Thread Home we're proud to offer you the very best thoughtfully and exquisitely made GOTS certified organic cotton products.  Explore our range of deliciously soft premium quality bed sheets, bathrobes, bath towels, muslin swaddle wraps, and blankets. Every item at Terra Thread Home is made ethically and sustainably.

We take our responsibilities very seriously and adhere to the strictest standards environmentally and socially.  We are proud to provide our workers a safe and clean environment that supports gender equality as well as good living wages. 

 Photo Courtesy of Terra Thread Home

Our products are Fairtrade which means we are committed to the social and economic development of the communities producing our goods.  We also  give back to those in need by being a part of the Feed America program. For every product sold, we donate free meals to those in need in the US.  This donation is doubled through the Tony Robbins Foundation.

So feel good about your Terra Thread Home purchase!  Sleep well! We are proud to create good that returns goodness.

 

 

Sources:

https://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/18/business/energy-environment/social-responsibility-that-rubs-right-off.html?auth=login-email&login=email

https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0011250

https://www.nature.com/articles/nature11069

https://www.bebencaorganics.com/blogs/latest/why-is-organic-cotton-expensive

https://www.dw.com/en/european-clothing-chains-hit-by-fake-organic-label-controversy/a-5164495

https://theprettyplaneteer.com/organic-cotton-pros-and-cons/

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/259421974_Potential_and_limitations_of_organic_and_fair_trade_cotton_for_improving_livelihoods_of_smallholders_Evidence_from_Central_Asia

https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/pros-cons-advantages-disadvantages-of-organic-cotton/

https://textileexchange.org/quick-guide-to-organic-cotton/?gclid=CjwKCAiA1eKBBhBZEiwAX3gql_b4iKeKrH7fOq9lbtGaWhEZgLkDqkX5tO6F9KbXJSC8o54kQIJZXRoCHkcQAvD_BwE

https://www.organic-center.org/site/environmental-footprint-organic-cotton?gclid=CjwKCAiA1eKBBhBZEiwAX3gqlzFvJcMNtnW0Gxq44sib06H8BTHi1vsnbQlSHiC05apNP8Ycqqkt2xoCM7AQAvD_BwE

http://aboutorganiccotton.org/stats/