Rebecca Smithers, THE GUARDIAN
ost Britons underestimate the full environmental impact of cotton, thinking it takes only 314 litres of water to make a cotton T-shirt – which is only 12% of the true figure of 2,700 litres, according to a new report out today.
Yet buying a certified organic cotton T-shirt rather than an ordinary one would save a staggering 2,457 litres of water – enough for one person to drink eight glasses of water a day for three and a half years.
Consumers are being urged to save water in the supply chain by buying organic cotton T-shirts in a new study from the Soil Association – the trade body that licenses organic products and promotes organic farming, as well as the environmental charity Hubbub.
Two in five Britons also said that while they care about the environment, it has not occurred to them that the manufacture of their clothing might have a negative impact on the planet, according to the new research.
Within the fashion industry, more than half of garments sold in the UK are made from cotton, meaning that switching conventional cotton to more sustainable cotton alternatives continues to present one of the biggest opportunities for retailers to reduce their environmental impact.
Cotton is a notoriously thirsty crop as detailed in the report. Growing cotton accounts for 69% of the water footprint of textile fibre production; just one kilogram of cotton takes as much as 10,000-20,000 litres of water to produce.
The World Economic Forum has identified water scarcity as one of the top 10 global risks to society over the next 10 years, yet the bulk of cotton is grown in countries that are already facing severe water stress.
However, growing cotton organically uses significantly less (up to 91%) water than conventional cotton, the report says. In addition, conventional cotton uses approximately 16% of the world’s insecticides and 7% of pesticides.