Often when people play mental word association with veganism and what it means to them, their thought process tracks back to a few common topics of discussion. Animal rights, healthy living, ethical values and also the environmental impacts of traditional means of production in the food and textile industries versus the ever expanding organic food and vegan textile industries.
In my own personal experience as a vegan, I have found that the majority of vegans are mainly focused on the well-being and ethical treatment of animals as the foundation for their vegan lifestyle, and rightfully so. More than likely, most of us initially made the choice to go vegan out of our love and compassion for animals, and the core belief in a values system that doesn't treat them as property or commodities. Whether they are to be used in testing for beauty and personal care products, or tortured and murdered as a part of the unnecessary and sinister practices of the animal agriculture industry, we have made a conscious decision as individuals to remove ourselves as supporters of these cruel enterprises.
Since these truths have been well established within the vegan community, I've decided to shift the focus of this particular article toward another glaring issue that often gets overlooked, both in conversation and in practice. The production of organic cotton and other eco-friendly fabrics, such as bamboo and hemp, play an ever increasing role in the protection of Earth and all creatures who call this planet their home. The benefits of more eco-friendly textiles are exemplified in ways such as preventing the contamination of water supplies, the conservation of bio-diversity, and also in improving the quality of the land where these fibres are cultivated. Let's take a closer look at the growing trend of organically produced cotton and how it measures up from an ethical and environmental standpoint against conventional means of cotton production.
Conventional cotton use can be traced back thousands of years. In fact, some of the earliest evidence of it's use goes as far back as between 5000 B.C. and 6000 B.C. in the Indian subcontinent of Asia. It's soft, easy to clean and durable, so it's safe to assume that a product that is still relevant after nearly 7000 years of use will remain prevalent into the distant future. With this expectation in one hand, and the knowledge of a global population surge in the other, now is a great time to take into consideration the benefits of organic cotton and how we can transition to making the use of it, along with other eco-friendly fabrics, the new norm.
Although there is a broad spectrum of environmental benefits to organic cotton over its conventional counterpart, none may be more critical than the absence of pesticides such as herbicides and insecticides. Considering the fact that conventional cotton cultivation uses between 2.5% to 3% of all cultivated land worldwide, but accounts for anywhere between 16% and 25% of global insecticide use, the alarm bells should be sounding for answers as to why this method of production should continue into the future.
Frankly, there is no good reason. Restricting pesticide use means that you're not only limiting your own exposure to many powerful chemicals, it also means that the run off from these agents cannot end up in our water supply. And since I mentioned water; according to many estimates, nearly two-thirds of the global population will face water shortage issues as soon as 2025. So the sooner we start to bring archaic methods of industry from the 20th century to an end in favour of the more environmentally sustainable methods of the future, the faster we can start the monumental task of figuring out the looming water crisis of the 21st Century. To put it bluntly in a one sentence fact, organic cotton is roughly 80% rain fed as opposed to conventional cotton, which uses irrigation and can take as much as 2,500 litres of water to produce a single cotton t-shirt. Yikes!
Now that the environmental benefits have been established in a broad sense, what other major benefits could come to be from a transition to organic cotton production as a more eco-friendly alternative to conventional efforts? Look no further than the human cost. Farmers that handle fibres that come into contact with a higher concentration of pesticides and insecticides are statistically more likely to develop respiratory problems and illnesses ranging from chronic breathing issues and allergies to various types of lung cancers.
So by now you must be thinking, "Okay, I understand the effects of conventional cotton production and the benefits of organic cotton for both the environment and the workers, but isn't organic cotton harder to find and more expensive?" No, it actually is not. The organic cotton market is growing by leaps and bounds on a yearly basis, with an increasing amount of cultivated land being allocated for it's production and distribution. Countries such as India, Turkey and the United States have noticed this trend and are leading the way by gearing up with more and more projects all the time.
The biggest obstacle remaining for a potential shift from conventional cotton to organic is basically consumer awareness. Major corporations and brands only begin to effect change in their practices after an informed consumer base has become aware of more ethical and sustainable methods of achieving a better product with fewer negative effects, and start to demand it. So we, the consumers must use our purchasing power as a tool to influence brands and manufacturers into making the switch by being consistent with our eco-conscious values.
Thank you for taking the time to read. Have a groovy week, and remember: Less Harm = More Harmony!
Jesse - The Groovy Vegan
- http://www.aboutorganiccotton.org Textile Exchange