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Cotton Sustainability:
Protecting Market Gains

To set the record straight about its sustainability and protect cotton’s research investments and consumer-related market share gains, the Cotton Board and Cotton Incorporated sponsored the first-ever “Cotton Sustainability Summit” last fall.

“We wanted to establish cotton’s true environmental message with retailers, brands and those that make fabric sourcing decisions to assure them that cotton is the No. 1 renewable, biodegradable and sustainable natural fiber demanded by consumers today,” says J. Berrye Worsham, president & CEO, Cotton Incorporated.

Beautiful Site For Meeting

The Summit took place at the base of one of nature’s most beautiful settings – Yosemite National Park – and brought together individuals from all sides of the supply chain to hear candid presentations and conversations about cotton and the environment.

“We wanted to provide a more intimate atmosphere so the Summit attendees would feel comfortable sharing their insights on the topic,” says Elizabeth King, Cotton Board vice president, importer relations.

Speakers at the Summit included producers, various retailers and brands, best-selling authors and key Cotton Incorporated senior staff who detailed what the organization is doing to keep cotton sustainable.

In the opening panel discussion, Alabama producer Larkin Martin and California producer Don Cameron spoke about how they have been incorporating sustainable production practices on their farms for several years.

“One of the biggest myths about cotton farming is that we are all huge corporate farms,” says Martin, who also grows corn, wheat and soybeans. “Yet, in reality, most of us are family operations and have been farming and living on that same land for generations.”

Another myth that Martin dispelled is that cotton is an irresponsible user of water and chemicals.

“Cotton is drought tolerant and uses less water than many other crops,” she notes. “Only 35 percent of cotton in the United States is irrigated.”

When speaking about chemicals, she and Cameron both say that inputs are also kept very minimal on today’s farms because of the innovative value-added technologies that were improved for producers of all crops.

“Using some combination of genetically-enhanced seed and/or precision technology is becoming increasingly common for many U.S. farms, including those raising cotton,” says Martin.

Cotton’s Supply Chain

Other panel discussions included those pertaining to cotton throughout the supply chain and provided companies such as Nike, Marks and Spencer (UK) and Wal-Mart a chance to tell how they are expanding their corporate responsibility to be better stewards of the environment.

Nike is currently implementing a plan called “Nike Considered” that addresses responsible competitiveness, design and climate factors. The company’s director of sustainability horizons, Sarah Severn, says that each department within the organization is ranked gold, silver or bronze according to their operational activities and products.

The U.K.-based Marks and Spencer addressed key factors including climate, waste, sustainable materials, fair partnerships and health. This five-year initiative is called “Plan A” and is important to the industry because more than 55 percent of the clothing sold by the retailer is made of cotton.

Cotton Incorporated also unveiled its new Natural trademark that is being offered to promote 100 percent cotton products as well as a new environmentally-themed television commercial.

The Cotton Board, which administers the Cotton Research and Promotion Program conducted by Cotton Incorporated, provided information for this article.

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