Corporate Cotton Greenwash!


Have you seen this ad? I’ve found it in lots of mainstream mags like Lucky, Marie Claire, etc. and it’s total B.S. It’s basically asserting that because it’s a ‘natural’ fiber (ie. it grows from the ground), cotton is green, or environmentally friendly. Nothing could be further from the truth! Cotton uses INSANE amounts of pesticides and herbicides per pound of fabric. And those pesticides are BADDIES:

-The EPA classifies eight of the pesticides used in conventional cotton as possible carcinogens
-Cotton uses 25% of the world’s pesticides
-In India, 91% of cotton workers complain of illness caused by chemicals
-Only 1% of cotton grown is organic (though that’s growing because of savvy consumer’s demand!)

(The above, plus more info and sources about cotton’s toxic footprint, can be found here, or check out PANNA- the Pesticide Action Network North America- article on what’s wrong with conventional cotton growing.)

Because cotton is made in so many third-world countries which have much lighter (or unenforced) environmental rules, that means tons of chemicals are ending up in water supplies and drenching soil the world over so we can snap up a new pair of chinos.

Read about some of the problems with expanding cotton supplies here, on EcoStreet (quote below excerpted from this page).

With conventional cotton there is such a long chain of buyers and manufacturers. Clothing retailers shop around for the cheapest fabric and the growers at the end of the chain are squeezed to the maximum so that the price of their product falls. They see the only way forward as increasing their yield with increased use of chemicals. Eventually pests develop resistance and the yield decreases. American and European subsidies push the price down even further and this way third world countries are kept poor and in debt to the Agrochemical giants who maintain a healthy profit.

I combed thefabricofourlives.com website and there’s nary a mention of organic cotton anywhere, even when I searched (there area few organic cotton items in some of their product suggestion pages, but no mention or discussion of it otherwise on the site).

However, there ARE several references to cotton’s eco-friendliness, but without any specific info as to why the fabric has somehow become sooooo much less environmentally deleterious than in the past (uh, it hasn’t). The only place where I found ANY legit kind of argument that non-organic cotton could be eco-oriented was on the page that encourages us to use cotton bags for shopping rather than plastic bags. There’s lots of greenwashing though, in a partnership with Macy’s that donates money to the National Park Foundation with the purchase of any reusable (conventional cotton) bag, and a page on the ecofriendliness of reusable bags generally.

This is PATHETIC. Instead of embracing and encouraging organics on their site, Corporate Cotton has decided to ignore this rapidly growing category, I’m SURE because they don’t want to make conventional cotton look ‘bad’ (I’m guessing this whole campaign is in reaction to the fact that it HAS gotten a bad rap recently). I’m hoping for a day in the near future when ALL cotton is raised organically, that is, without abusing the Earth to get there.

Starre Vartan is founder and editor-in-chief of Eco-Chick.com and the author of the Eco-Chick Guide to Life. She's also a freelance science and environment writer who has published in National Geographic, CNN, Scientific American, Mental Floss, Pacific Standard, the NRDC, and many more. She lives on an island in Puget Sound with her partner and black cat. She was a geologist in her first career, and still picks up rocks wherever she goes.