your grandkids will thank you
Other useful links and tools :
Educates people on the use of organically grown cotton.
Shares stories from workers in sweat-shops and exposes the unfair labor practices of the goliath clothing companies.
Sustainable rock n' roll. Planet Earth's favorite music.
Local Salt Lake City WAHM, all organic baby clothes and diapers. Erica's great!
Supports and trains those fighting against global warming; organized around SLC's own Tim DeChristopher.
What's organic and fair trade anyway?
Organic cotton is grown without the use of chemicals (pesticides and chemical fertilizers), employing innovative farming and weeding practices instead, and does not genetically alter the cottonseed. For a full list of the international organic textile standards that certified organic farmers must adhere to, click here. Fair labor or trade means at a minimum that the farmers who grew the cotton and the manufacturers who sewed the t-shirts were paid a living wage, not just the wage the plantation the cotton was grown on or the factory the t-shirt was sewn in can get away with paying. For a more complete description on labor in the textile industry, see our About Us section.
I've heard of organic food but organic clothes?
It takes about 1/3 pound of chemical fertilizer to produce one pound of non-organic cotton. And it takes about one pound of cotton to make one t-shirt. These toxic chemicals get into the ground water, air, and soil and so because of evaporation and rain (this planet really is a whole) get back into your soil, air, and ground water. Eventually, we do end up ingesting these chemicals. Of course for those people and animals living near cotton growing areas, the negative health impact is even more severe and immediate.
Why does organic and fair trade cost more?
There are several factors for this but the two main reasons are first, because there is not yet an economy of scale for organic, fair trade cotton. Not enough people are demanding organic cotton over conventionally produced cotton. The second reason is because the workers who are growing convention cotton and making conventional cotton garments are the ones paying the price, not the farm and factory owners or the multinational corporations with their brands or the consumers who end up buying the product. These workers "pay" through oppresive working conditions and non-living wages that keep them stuck in a cycle of poverty.
What's the real environmental cost of conventional cotton?
In U.S. commerce, the environmental impact of how we produce and sell our goods is usually never taken into account. We are able to buy more things cheaply without seeing how what we are buying is hurting the earth and those who make it with the pollution of their rivers and over farming of their lands. We will end up "paying" for the environmental cost sooner than we think.
Say it Green! recently did a carbon footprint of an organic t-shirt versus a conventional cotton t-shirt, measuring the estimated reduction in greenhouse gases of organic cotton t-shirts. See our press release below:
Reduce Your Carbon Footprint: Choose Organic Cotton
Looking for simple ways to reduce your carbon footprint this year? When buying your next cotton t-shirt, buy organic and cut the carbon footprint of your purchase by over 15%.
Say it Green! (www.sayitgreen.com), provider of organic, fair trade apparel custom printed with eco-friendly inks, has calculated that, all other things being equal, the carbon footprint of apparel made from organic cotton is 16% lower than that of apparel made from “conventional” cotton. Organic cotton is grown pesticide free, lowering the carbon footprint of organic cotton apparel by not having to process and distribute the toxic pesticides used in farming conventional cotton.
“The toxic pesticides used to grow conventional cotton contaminate our soil, water, air, and even remain in our food and clothing. We knew that, which is why we chose to offer clothing made exclusively from organic cotton. What we didn’t know was that the manufacture and distribution of these pesticides leads to such a high level of greenhouse gases being emitted into our atmosphere,” says Kira Dominguez-Hultgren, Say it Green! co-founder and Operational Manager.
Carbon footprinting is one tool used to track the level of greenhouse gas (GHGs) emissions associated with a product or business. There is broad consensus that man-made greenhouse gases (GHGs) cause global climate change. The scientific community has indicated that global climate change is already occurring, making it imperative that we start reducing greenhouse gas emissions now.
Eliminating our use of cotton pesticides is one easy way we can do this. Cotton pesticides are manufactured by big chemical companies and distributed to cotton farmers worldwide, and cotton requires a much higher pesticide level than the average crop. Even though it only makes up 5% of crop acreage in America, cotton crops account for 10% of all US farm pesticide use. In addition, worldwide cotton production accounts for 25% of all worldwide insecticide use (insecticides are a type of pesticide). Organic cotton does not require the use of these toxic pesticides.
Just how toxic are these pesticides? According to a 2001 EPA study, the EPA considers seven of the top fifteen cotton pesticides used in the US to be “possible,” “likely,” “probable,” or “known” human cancer-causing chemicals.
And, according to records held by the California Department of Pesticide Regulation, in 1999 a work crew started work in a cotton field five hours after it has been treated with pesticides. Seven members of that work crew sought medical treatment and five continue to face health problems.
The research for this study was done by Andy Hultgren, co-founder of Say it Green! and Kira’s husband. Andy currently works for the sustainability consultancy Environmental Performance Group and is the company’s technical expert in carbon footprinting. Andy has conducted numerous carbon footprint studies for a wide range of businesses and government organizations, and has served on a technical expert panel for The Climate Registry, North America’s leading provider of carbon footprint standards and data reporting.
“Conventional cotton has any number of problems associated with it,” says Hultgren. “For example, the fertilizers used by conventional cotton growers typically run off into our water ways, contaminating them and contributing to massive algae growths that kill off other aquatic plant and animal species. And as for our carbon footprint study, it really was a limited study of the potential GHG reduction benefits of organic cotton.
“For example, organic cotton farmers use environmentally friendly fertilizers, often from very local sources. That means they are often not buying their fertilizers from big chemical companies, who produce them in factories and have them shipped all over the world. And organic cotton farmers typically use better soil management practices, leading to increased soil health and potentially less need for GHG emitting farmland expansion. So really, the potential GHG reducing benefits of organic cotton could be much higher than the 16% we calculated as resulting solely from the elimination of toxic pesticides. Pesticide elimination was just the easiest aspect to look at.”
Data for the study was sourced from the US Department of Agriculture and from the Carnegie Mellon University Green Design Institute Industry Benchmark model. For more information, go to http://www.sayitgreen.com/organic/about/footprint.html.
Say it Green! (www.sayitgreen.com) is a Salt Lake City based provider of 100% organic, fair labor cotton apparel for men, women, and children. A family-owned business that has been active since 2005, Say it Green! is focused on promoting an environmentally and socially responsible lifestyle, including organic clothing produced free of sweatshop and child labor. Visit our wind-powered design site, where you can personalize your own organic, fair labor apparel. Your clothes. Your voice. Say it Green!
For those of you who want more information about our calculated 16% greenhouse gas reduction from organic cotton apparel, this is the place for you. If you want to give your feedback on comments on this study, please head over to our blog entry that has the press release and you can comment there.
First, here was my overall approach:
- Estimate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with production of a conventional cotton t-shirt.
- Estimate GHG emissions associated with the production and distribution of cotton pesticides.
- To generate a conservative estimate of the GHG reduction benefits of organic cotton (and because its easier), consider only the GHG reduction benefits associated with not using pesticides on organic cotton during farming. This means we take the result from step (1) and subtract the result from step (2) to get the reduced GHG emissions associated with producing an organic cotton shirt. Note that this ignores numerous other potential GHG-reducing benefits of organic cotton, including:
- A typical focus on locally sourced inputs such as organic fertilizers, reducing GHG emissions associated with the manufacture and worldwide distribution of conventional fertilizers
- Typically improved soil management practices, reducing the need for GHG-releasing farmland expansion
- Elimination of harsh chemicals and processing applied to conventional cotton, potentially reducing processing energy and the GHGs released during the manufacture and distribution of these harsh chemical inputs
Trust me, that paragraph was the most complicated part of this whole explanation. So if you have made it this far don’t worry, it gets easier from here on out.
So, now we flip over to the “Cut and Sew Apparel Manufacturing” sector, where t-shirts and other fun clothing are produced. There, we see that 688 MTCO2e (translation: “688 metric tonnes of greenhouse gases”) is emitted when we spend $1 million in the Cut and Sew Apparel Manufacturing sector. Assuming you can buy a conventional cotton shirt wholesale for $1 per shirt (a very safe assumption), and assuming that the Cut and Sew Apparel Manufacturing sector accurately represents the production of a conventional cotton shirt (an admittedly much rougher assumption, but it is the best we can do with what we have and shouldn’t be terribly off the mark – as in, we are not going to confuse it with the GHG emissions associated with making a car), you can conclude that roughly 1.52 lbs of GHGs are released from all processes up to your wholesaler buying their shirts. This includes GHGs released as a result of farming the cotton, transporting and processing it, transporting/processing/dying the fabric, sewing/transporting/processing the shirt, and all of the big web of GHGs associated with all of the energy and material inputs along the way.
Hooray! We have our answer for step (1), 1.52 lbs of GHGs per conventional cotton shirt. On to step (2), estimating the GHGs associated with producing and distributing cotton pesticides.
Explaining step (2) is easy: we are pretty much doing the same thing we did in step (1), but with a manufacturing sector that most likely yields a very good approximation of pesticide GHGs. Our handy Industry Benchmark model actually has a sector called “Pesticide and Other Agricultural Chemical Manufacturing.” So do you think this one will give us a good approximation of pesticide related GHGs? This sector seems pretty narrowly focused on pesticides, so I do. Anyway, looking at this sector we see that our wonderful friends at Carnegie Mellon calculate that 2.51 lbs of GHGs are released per dollar of pesticides bought by conventional cotton farmers.
“Wait a second,” you say. “We have pesticide-GHGs per $ of pesticide purchased, but we need pesticide-GHGs per shirt or pound of cotton or something!” Yes, you are right. To actually use our pesticide-GHGs per dollar of pesticide purchased, we need to know the pesticide costs associated with a pound of finished cotton fabric.
Where do we get that? Enter the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). These guys track truly enormous amounts of information about our farms. Kudos to them for keeping such good records. Here is what we need (all of the following is the most up-to-date information that the USDA has):
- According to the USDA, the national average pesticide spending for US cotton farms is $61.64 per acre of cotton (www.ers.usda.gov/publications/sb974-2/sb974-2.pdf)
- Also according to the USDA, each acre of cotton farmland yields 711 lbs of useful cotton (national average, www.ers.usda.gov/publications/sb974-2/sb974-2.pdf)
- And lastly, also according to the USDA, US cotton mills loose an average of 7.5% of their cotton to production losses when creating cotton fabric from unprocessed cotton (www.ers.usda.gov/publications/IUS5/ius5e.pdf)
And there you have step (2). On to step (3), the really really easy step.
For step (3) let’s make the convenient (and accurate) assumption that there is about 1 lb of cotton per shirt. That means that we have $0.094 in pesticides per shirt, which we combine with our 2.51 lbs of GHGs per $ of pesticides we calculated above and, Voila! We calculate that pesticides contribute 0.24 lbs of GHGs per conventional cotton t-shirt.
And that is our answer! Organic cotton does not use pesticides in its production, so assuming all other production aspects of organic vs. conventional cotton are equal (which, as we discussed, is probably giving conventional cotton quite a bit of extra leeway), organic cotton will have 0.24 lbs less GHGs per shirt than conventional cotton. Compare that 0.24 lbs less GHGs with the value from step (1) of 1.52 lbs of GHGs per conventional cotton shirt, and that is where we get our calculated 16% reduction in GHGs by purchasing organic cotton over conventional cotton.
Ok, to those of you who made it through that explanation, well done. And next time you are thinking about buying a shirt or bag or apron or whatever, please do buy organic. And buy fair trade/fair labor also (if you still have an appetite for reading, please visit our About Us page to learn more about that). Remember, when you buy something, you are telling the market what you want it to do. You are voting with your dollars/pesos/euros/pounds/yen/etc. Please vote well.