Cotton Incorporated Leads The Way On Cotton Sustainability 

stacey gorman

The global population and its need for food, clothing and other essential goods is constantly growing. Many of our most precious resources are finite, and the need to do more with our land and resources is a top priority for many industries beyond cotton. However, as a natural fiber, cotton directly depends on the health and vitality of the environment. For more than 40 years, the cotton industry has developed new and better ways to grow, process and manufacture cotton to protect and improve the soil, air and climates in which it grows. 

We all have our roles to play when it comes to cotton sustainability. The U.S. cotton farmer strives for continuous improvement by producing more cotton using fewer inputs. Cotton mills and manufacturers work toward improved efficiencies with less waste. Brands and retailers have sustainability goals built into their brand values.

Cotton Incorporated, a not-for-profit research organization funded by U.S. cotton growers and importers, provides resources and research to help develop superior, innovative and profitable cotton products. Over the past 40 years, Cotton Incorporated has been a guiding leader for all segments of the U.S. cotton industry in the sustainability space and continues to do so today. Dr. Jesse Daystar, Cotton Incorporated’s chief sustainability officer, said, “Our sustainability efforts are spread across every facet of the cotton life cycle from fiber through finished product.” 

Why Is PEF TS Important?

Dr. Jesse Daystar, Cotton Incorporated’s chief sustainability
officer, speaks at the Great Ideas in Cotton sustainability
conference in Hong Kong.

Cotton Incorporated has stepped into the industry leadership role, giving us a “seat at the table” in many important sustainability circles. A recent example of this leadership is Cotton Incorporated’s membership in Europe’s Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) Technical Secretariat (TS). PEF is a European Commission initiative to measure and label the environmental impacts of individual products.

PEF aims to give individual products a score for how sustainable they are. One category specifically included in the PEF discussion is the apparel and footwear sector, which includes products like t-shirts, pants and socks. The PEF TS is responsible for developing robust, science-based calculation rules that detail the PEF methodology for apparel and footwear product subcategories.

Cotton Incorporated’s Michele Wallace, director of sustainability standards, is a technical expert and an active voting member of the PEF TS. Other members of the group include brands, NGOs and government agencies. The PEF TS does not create or influence policy for the European Union.

Cotton Incorporated provides technical guidance through the PEF TS to help establish sound methodology standards. “By having a seat at the table for U.S. cotton, we can work to safeguard the playing field for cotton and help ensure the methodology PEF uses is appropriate and accurate,” Daystar said.

He wants the methodology recommended by the PEF TS to account for all the impacts of fiber choice, including synthetic microfiber shedding and microplastic pollution, which provides an opportunity for cotton to come out ahead of its synthetic competitors. Trends like the PEF issue that occur in Europe often make their way to the United States and could have implications for U.S. cotton production and textiles.

Life Cycle Assessment

As sustainability becomes an increasingly important topic in the textile industry, so does the research and data that helps Cotton Incorporated make claims and tell the sustainability story of U.S. cotton. The Sustainability Division at Cotton Incorporated is leading two life cycle assessment (LCA) projects to create better cotton data on U.S. cotton production and U.S. cottonseed utilization for cattle feed.

“Brands and retailers are demanding credible environmental assessment data to make claims and decisions surrounding their fiber choices,” Daystar said.

The current LCA projects will provide a robust dataset to use when telling the story of U.S. cotton production.

For more information on Cotton Incorporated’s myriad sustainability initiatives, visit The Cotton Today website brings to life the facts and the latest scientific discoveries in the world of cotton and sustainability.

Stacey Gorman is The Cotton Board’s director of communications. Contact her at

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