Many of us saw Stacey Dooley’s recent programme Fashion’s Dirty Secrets on BBC1 recently.
We were very pleased to see the BBC providing prime time coverage of the horrendous environmental damage that can arise from the clothing industry and to help us all understand the choices we make when we decide to buy our clothing (and bedding).
Recently we were asked whether organic cotton brings any benefits in terms of water impact when compared to the damage caused by non-organic, conventional cotton, which was so clearly demonstrated in the programme.
It’s a good question and, of course, there’s no easy answer, but we think GOTS organically certified cotton is significantly better than conventional cotton even when it comes to its impact on water.
These are our top 5 reasons for saying this.
(1) A central premise of the programme was the damage done by fast and throw-away fashion. Organic cotton is renowned for lasting longer than conventional cotton and we have always stressed the importance of buying quality so that clothes can be passed down between siblings. We all need clothes and its better to make the most of the valuable clothes we produce, rather than treating them as disposable. There is no easy alternative to this – synthetic textiles are thought to contribute hugely to polluting the seas with plastics and fabrics such as bamboo rayon involve the use of substantial quantities of harmful chemicals.
(2) It is a fundamental aspect of organic farming that success flows from sustaining healthy soil, with substantial quantities of organic matter that make the soil significantly more water retentive and therefore reduces the use of artificial irrigation. In the report mentioned below they concluded that “95% of water used is green water  (rainwater and moisture stored in soil and used for plant growth).”
(3) In 2014 the Textile Exchange funded an investigation into the environmental impact of organic cotton (the report can be found here. In that report they concluded that the main damaging impact was the extent to which “blue” water was consumed.  Blue water being water extracted from ground water or surface water bodies. They concluded (page 15) that organic production only consumed 182 cubic metres of blue water per 1,000 kg of cotton production compared to 2,120 cubic meters for conventional cotton – that’s over 90% less blue water consumption for organic cotton!
(4) A big part of the problem identified in the program was the pollution of natural water courses, were organic production can again make a big impact. Firstly, organic farming means no chemical herbicides or pesticides to pollute the soil, the water table or to run off into water courses. Secondly, dangerous chemicals are either banned or severely restricted in the tightly controlled organic manufacturing process, meaning no dumping of polluting chemicals into the water courses – a particularly disturbing feature of the program.
(5) Another issue the program identified explicitly was that as environmental standards tighten in western countries, western companies simply export their environmental damage overseas where there are no restrictions.  Certifying organic means reimposing even tougher environmental standards than we currently have in Europe to wherever the cotton is grown and manufactured.  A massive benefit of organic certification is that a system of monitoring and oversight is funded and imposed, ensuring the sort of product, environmental, social and employee standards that most of us would hope for when we buy our goods.
We know that organic cotton is slightly more expensive than conventional cotton, but we hope the above advantages go some way to explain why and to show that the additional cost is worth it in terms of the much greater advantages that come with certified organic cotton production.
As consumers our choices can be a powerful influence for the good (or the bad).

When buying organic cotton always ensure that it is certified by the Global Organic Textiles Standard (GOTS) and that it carries the GOTS symbol shown here. To learn more about GOTS certification click here.

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