What do we mean by the word sustainable? Sustainable is defined as development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Therefore, sustainable cotton is grown in a way that can maintain levels of production with minimal environmental impact, can support viable producer livelihoods and communities, and can do so in the face of long-term ecological constraints and socioeconomic pressures.
Sustainability standards and certification aims to address the issues associated with unsustainable cotton production. They provide guidance to farmers on sustainable practices and give assurance to buyers that they meet certain requirements. Sourcing cotton produced according to a sustainable standard or certification is a good first step for companies to take to improve the sustainability of the cotton they obtain. While each sustainable cotton standard is different, sourcing cotton from one or more sustainable standard can have significant environmental, social, and economic benefits.
Environmental impacts include:
- Improve soil health
- Improve biodiversity
- Reduce water use
- Reduce chemical fertilizer use
- Reduce chemical pesticide use
Social and economic impacts include:
- Promote decent work for farmers, workers, and communities
- Help farmers become more profitable
- Increase confidence and trust among consumers
Sustainable cotton standards and certification vary in their requirements, but typically share common benefits. These include:
- Reducing use of hazardous chemicals on farms, or safer handling and more efficient use where chemicals are still used
- Less excessive water use for irrigating cotton crops, which can benefit other local water users and natural habitats, particularly in water-stressed regions
- Reducing poverty for cotton farmers and workers on cotton farms through higher yields.
Addressing each of these issues is critical for the long-term viability and sustainability of the cotton industry.