3 Ways Cotton is Committed to a Sustainable Future

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Celebrate World Cotton Day

October 7 is World Cotton Day, a global celebration of the world’s most important natural fiber.¹ Cotton is soft, breathable, thermo-regulating, odor resistant, hypoallergenic—the list goes on and on. There’s no wonder that cotton’s many benefits make it a top textile choice worldwide for clothing, home goods, personal care items, and baby products.²

To celebrate its versatility, breakthroughs in sustainability and innovative agricultural approaches, stakeholders from across the globe will come together to showcase this multi-faceted wonder crop. Topics for this year’s World Cotton Day include sustainability, women in cotton, and brand and retail partnerships.

Most people know cotton as an industry-leading fiber for clothing, but it has so many more possibilities. It’s a food source; cottonseed oil has been used by the food service and restaurant industries for more than a century. In recent years, technological advances have also helped make cottonseed edible as a plant-based protein.³

As a crop, cotton brings economic opportunities and vitality to some of the least developed countries in the world, grows in hot, dry environments where few other crops thrive, and biodegrades quickly, minimizing pollution and offering a viable alternative to single-use plastics.

Here are three ways U.S. cotton is leading the industry into a sustainable future.

Sharing Research

This fall, Cotton Incorporated is sponsoring and participating in several events where their sustainability research will be shared with a global audience of cotton stakeholders. This week, the company hosted industry leaders from around the world at the World Cotton Research Conference in Cairo, Egypt to share best practices on regenerative agriculture as well as health impact studies for cottonseed oil.⁴ Many of cotton’s growing regions are seeing the harsh realities of climate change first-hand, so the conference was also an opportunity for industry leaders to learn critical improvements they can apply to cotton production. U.S. Cotton will also showcase producers during its Cotton Farm Tours later this month.⁵

Last month, specialists from the worldwide textile supply chain convened at the 36th International Cotton Conference Bremen to share new advances in science and innovation around cotton production, processing, products, and supply chain—focusing specifically on digital tools for the apparel and textile industry as well as ways cotton can serve as a viable and eco-friendly alternative to single-use plastics.⁶

Finally, Cotton Incorporated released its climate-smart sustainability research—the product of 50 years from the company’s Agricultural & Environmental Research and Sustainability divisions—at the Sustainability Summit 2022.⁷ This work spans an impressive breadth of topics, including improving the efficiency of cotton growth and harvesting, mapping the cotton genome, and developing a first-of-its-kind Global Cotton Life Cycle Assessment to better understand the fiber’s carbon footprint.

Collaborating for Climate-Smart Cotton

The cotton industry has partnered with the USDA to build climate-smart agricultural practices and provide assistance to over 1,000 cotton farmers in the U.S.⁸ The Climate Smart Cotton Program will allow producers to adopt more sustainable practices on more than one million acres of cotton farmland in the U.S. Over five years, the projects are expected to yield more than four million bales of climate-smart cotton.

Combining Cotton Incorporated’s wealth of sustainable agriculture research with funding from the USDA, the program aims to improve soil health, while also benefiting farmers and the environment.

Cotton Boll

The USDA is investing $2.8 billion in Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities, which launched this year with 70 selected projects across the country.⁹ The initiative will support a diverse range of farmers, ranchers, and private forest landowners in implementing climate-smart production practices, pilot innovative and cost-effective methods for monitoring and reporting greenhouse gas benefits, and develop markets and promote resulting climate-smart commodities.¹⁰ The program is projected to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 50 million metric tons; that’s about the same as removing 10 million gasoline-powered vehicles from the road for one year.¹¹

Making Progress in Push for Sustainability

The Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture releases its National Indicators Report every five years to analyze how well commodity crops, including cotton, are implementing sustainable agriculture practices to meet the demands of climate change.¹² Overall, the cotton industry showed many improvements in meeting its sustainability challenges.

The report measures progress in five areas: irrigation water use, land use, energy use, greenhouse gas emissions, and soil erosion.

U.S. growers made significant improvements in water use and greenhouse gas emissions over the past 10 years, while they also made measurable progress in improving metrics around energy use. Because cotton grows in many arid regions, it has been wrongly labeled a “water-intensive crop” despite the fact that it relies primarily on rainfall, not irrigation. In fact, 64 percent of cotton produced in the U.S. requires no irrigation at all.¹³

In land use and soil conservation, however, U.S. cotton’s gains were tempered by extreme weather, including hurricanes and droughts, zeroing in on the need to boost cotton’s resilience through enhanced soil health. Land stewardship is a cornerstone of U.S. cotton production and there are many technological advances that have increased land use efficiency, bringing in twice as much cotton on 30 percent less farmland.¹⁴

Cotton is not just a versatile and exciting natural fiber; the cotton industry is innovative, on the cutting-edge, and adaptable to changing climate and market conditions. This World Cotton Day, cotton stakeholders have plenty to celebrate.

  1. Welcome to World Cotton Day | Cotton Council International
  2. Cotton – statistics & facts | statista
  3. Power Plant: Fiber and Food from Cotton | Cotton Today
  4. WCRC – World Cotton Research Conference
  5. 2022 Farm Tour | CottonWorks
  6. International Cotton Conference Bremen
  7. Sustainability Summit 2022 | CottonWorks
  8. Cotton Industry Collaborates to Receive USDA Grant for U.S. Cotton Smart Commodity Program | CottonWorks
  9. Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities Project Summaries | USDA
  10. Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities Project Summaries | USDA
  11. Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities | USDA
  12. National Indicators Report: U.S. Cotton Continues to Make Progress | CottonToday
  13. Cotton Water Stewardship| Water Stewardship U.S. | Cotton LEADS
  14. Soil Conservation | Land and Soil U.S. | Cotton LEADS U.S. Cotton