Is Sustainable The New Organic For Cotton?

Image courtesy of Fujoshi Bijou

Pick out any shirt from your closet and you’ll like find cotton listed as a material used in its production. While you generally find the words “organic” and “sustainable” littering the aisles of your local grocery store, those buzzwords are now finding their way to retailer shelves. 

Bloomberg reports that retailers, who have in recent years sought out organic cotton growers, are now working to bring sustainable cotton to their racks.

Companies like Patagonia and Nike previously turned to organic cotton as a way to avoid the pesticide-heavy traditional cotton. But that type of cotton came with a steep price tag — $2.20 per pound compared to the $0.61 per pound for traditional cotton — that customers apparently weren’t as willing to pay for.

As an alternative, the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI), a coalition of farmers, garment makers, and retailers, such as IKEA and H&M, have banded together to produce and use sustainable cotton.

Farmers with BCI are taught how to grow sustainable cotton using less pesticide and water at a cost relative to that of traditional cotton, Bloomberg reports.

“That’s one of the aims, to make Better Cotton mainstream and make it available for the masses,” says Ulrika Hvistendahl, sustainability spokeswoman for IKEA.

Since signing onto the initiative in 2009, the retailer has increased the percentage of sustainable cotton in its products to 70%.

For Nike and H&M the use of sustainable cotton has been a bit slower, but each company used more sustainable cotton than organic in 2015, Bloomberg reports.

Analysts say retailers shifting to sustainable cotton might be considering the environment, but also their bottomline.

“Offering a product with a sustainability cachet but not the added cost may meet the sweet spot of pleasing both a consumer’s conscience and wallet,” Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Gregory Elders said.

Forget Organic, Retailers Increasingly Are Turning to Sustainable Cotton [Bloomberg]

Want more consumer news? Visit our parent organization, Consumer Reports, for the latest on scams, recalls, and other consumer issues.