Home Guest Columns Conventional Cotton Versus Organic Cotton—Their Impacts

Conventional Cotton Versus Organic Cotton—Their Impacts

Lewis Young

A recent report by The Soil Association communicated via “Just Style” highlights some of the key environmental impacts from the use of conventional cotton. In this report details have emerged around the consumption of water and land cultivated with the use of insecticides during the cotton production process.

This, therefore, raises some interesting points for hotel owners to consider for improving the guest experience. Cotton is a key textile within the hospital trade. Specifically, hotels, lodges and health spas are key consumers of cotton, used within bedding, robes and towels.

Conventional Cotton Versus Organic

In the report and among our sources, there is a running trend in the findings of conventional cotton production. To start, the Soil Association report claims that the production of cotton accounts for 69 percent of the water footprint from textile production. Furthermore, producing a single item of conventional cotton requires 20,000 liters of water. Textile production in general is one of the largest water consumers and contaminators, with cotton sitting at the top, driving a large proportion of this consumption.

In contrast, organic cotton requires 87 percent less water to produce the same item of clothing. Its production is less resource heavy on water and other resources, generally.

What’s more damning, however, is the use of pesticides by conventional and GMO cotton producers. One of the most shocking statistics to be revealed by the report was that traditional cotton production accounts for 16 percent of all pesticides used globally.

Unfortunately, these chemicals are known to cause major types of issues during production. The areas they cover include environmental, physical and mental health and water pollution issues.

To start with the environment, the use of insecticides among pesticides and other harmful chemicals pollute the land around the cotton production farm, as well as the cotton textile itself. Once used, the land can only grow conventional and GMO type cotton and other products. There cannot be an organic farm there, due to the contamination to the land.

Additionally, the water produced cannot be recycled, either, due to the chemicals used during production. It becomes waste and nothing more.

Finally, the farmers who farm conventional cotton are impacted both physically and mentally from the use of these chemicals. During labor, farmers are known to not be wearing the correct personal protection equipment, which can result in skin irritations, burns, improper mental wellbeing and illnesses as strong as cancer.

Alternatively, organic cotton production is a vast improvement on all the above. The land can grow multiple organic options, not just cotton and in most cases, organic cotton farms are also FairTrade certified, meaning that there is financial investment into the health and wellbeing of the farmers.

Operational Impacts 

It is not just the physical effects, but the operational and commercial impacts of conventional cotton that are significant.

It is known throughout the trade that conventional cotton farms can fail during the season. This poses a problem as the cotton seeds provided cannot be recycled or refarmed, forcing the farmers to buy more seeds and eventually get into debt to supply cotton manufacturers with product.

This is an unsustainable method of production that has a detrimental impact. This, combined with rising global temperatures and tough conditions has resulted in over 300,000 farmer suicides since 1995.

It is extremely important to consider the impact that conventional cotton is having operationally and the end results to those farming the material.

Again, organic and FairTrade cotton offer a much better alternative. Farmers are trained in organic cotton production, given correct protective clothing and can work more sustainably as a result. Furthermore, should the crop fail, the land can be recycled to farm other crops due to no contamination, leaving the farmer with multiple options and no stress from contaminated land.

The Result for the End Consumer 

From a customer perspective, they may not know the impact cotton production can have during production, but they can at least feel the difference between the two. Organic cotton is a softer, cleaner and higher quality alternative to its contaminated alternative. From a hotel owner perspective, providing quality organic bedding to customers can be what turns a good night’s sleep into a great one. And what turns a 4 star review into a 5 star review.

Therefore, in order to keep not only our customers happy and safe, but also the cotton farmers producing our bedding and towels, we really should be considering moving towards organic cotton and leave conventional cotton behind, where it belongs.

Lewis Young is a published writer with over five years’ experience focusing on sustainability, eco-friendly and vegan lifestyle topics. He is degree educated, while also studying for his Masters in Advertising Strategy and Planning.