Is Organic Cotton Actually Worse for the Environment?
A trip to aboutorganiccotton.org presents the contention that farming its inspirational namesake “does not allow the use of toxic chemicals or GMOs (genetically modified organisms),” relying instead on the combination of “tradition, innovation and science to benefit the shared environment and promote a good quality of life for all involved.” A May 2 Cotton Inc.-led panel, though, may give purchasers pause, as speakers noted that opting for organic cotton over the conventional type when selecting apparel, particularly jeans, might prove a deterrent to the environment.
Regarding the fiber’s efficacy, then, whose spin possesses more credibility? “Organic” has become a ubiquitous buzzword that has led many consumers to presume that products and clothing items bearing the adjective must be superior. Last week’s panel, however, featured speakers who hold that conventional cotton planting yields more fiber, with a supplemental study showing that output rose 42 percent between 1980 and 2015. Lacking genetic modification, they posit, organic processes require more planting, resulting in greater land use and certainly not diminishing the need for intense irrigation.
A Cotton Inc. chart looks to show that courting organic threads could come at a high cost, though aboutorganiccotton’s What You Should Know About Organic Cotton section states that the alternative means used 71 percent less water and 62 percent less energy. How can anyone stitch together enough details to come to a solid conclusion, as visits to the websites make it seem as if their overseers are political candidates courting votes?
The article by Quartz, which bills itself as a “digitally native news outlet” for “business people in the new global economy,” gives the camps equal mentions, with, arguably, the strongest conventional cotton point being that experts have linked organic crops’ lower yields to higher greenhouse gas emissions on the industrial farms tasked to produce them, and the chief pro-organic cotton claim possibly being the assertion that the substitute way to create apparel uses fewer chemicals.
Quartz, which has also addressed Americans’ growing infatuation with organic food and the U.S. government’s increasing spending efforts on such sustenance, ultimately leaves the decision to consumers, stating, “Buy better clothes. Buy less of them. Wear them more,” stressing that they should wash them only as needed because of the undeniable energy use that laundry requires.