New benchmark tools for cotton
The US Cotton Incorporated, the research and promotion company for cotton, has developed some new benchmark tools on the sustainability of cotton, namely Cotton’s Life Cycle Inventory (LCI) and Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), these helped to complete two key sustainability indicators The Field to Market National Report on Agricultural Sustainability and the Higg Index developed by the Sustainable Apparel Coalition
2011 was earmarked for Cotton Incorporated to complete a two year data-collection and assessment project to establish an up to date and accurate global baseline for cotton’s environmental impact. The holistic approach resulted in the world’s most comprehensive sustainability data set on cotton. It is intended to better inform key decision makers in the global supply chain as well as to serve as a guide for future research leading to even greater sustainability gains moving forward. LCA is a systematic evaluation of the potential environmental impact and resource utilisation of a product starting at the raw material stage and ending with disposal at the end of the product’s life cycle. LCI is a quantification of the relevant energy and material inputs and environmental release or emissions data associated with product creation and use.
Agricultural production data from Cotton’s Life Cycle Inventory was incorporated into a recent study by Field to Market, the Keystone Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture, a diversified initiative joining producers, agribusiness, food companies and conservation organisations to create sustainable outcomes for agriculture. The study reveals that cotton improved on all measures of resource efficiency, with decreases in per-pound lint land use (-30 %), soil erosion (-68 %), irrigation water applied (-75 %), energy use (-36 %) and greenhouse gas emissions (-30 %).
The LCI helped additionally to improve the Materials Sustainability Index module of the Higg Index, released by the Sustainable Apparel Coalition and there cotton’s ongoing gains were reflected by scoring cotton as one of the top fibres from a raw material point of view. Michele Wallace, Associate Director, Product Integrity for Cotton Incorporated, stresses the fact “that while all fibres face unique sustainability challenges, the textile processing phase presents a unified opportunity for improvement, and textile processing has a major impact on a finished product’s footprint”. He added: “To address this, Cotton Incorporated focuses a significant amount of research on alternative processes, technical innovations and the dissemination of that information to the industry at large.