Organic Water Saving Claims False, Says Anti-Cotton Myth Report
As stated in my previous article, the most common beliefs about the environmental impacts of cotton are either false or misleading. This creates significant obstacles to understanding the impact of cotton cultivation on the planet and people. It also inhibits the optimization of agricultural methods and mitigates negative impacts while supporting global trade and social equity. The recent Cotton: A Case Study in Misinformation report published by the Transformers Foundation provides the most recent and peer-reviewed data on the global impacts of cotton and offers the opportunity to guide decision-making on more sustainable materials. by the public and the textile and clothing industry. .
In this article, I tackle the second of four key cotton myths, and one that disrupts unfounded beliefs about organic cotton over conventional cotton. As defined in the case study, organic cotton is grown without synthetic chemicals, synthetic pesticides or genetically modified seeds (GMOs), while conventional cotton is grown with synthetic chemical inputs or genetically modified seeds. The cotton myths in the study are evaluated according to the rankings of the New Standards Institute, by Red, which means not at all reliable; to gold, which means derived from a transparent peer-reviewed article on the author’s funding and affiliations.
Organic cotton uses 91% less water than conventional cotton. Note: Orange
In 2014, Textile Exchange conducted an analysis of organic cotton versus conventional cotton, concluding that organic cotton requires 91% less irrigation. They came to this conclusion after commissioning their own organic cotton life cycle analysis (LCA) and summary of results, comparing their LCA to an LCA from Cotton Inc dated 2012, however, LCA data was not not comparable.
LCAs, by their nature, reflect specific farming methods and climatic conditions, data collection and analysis methodologies, and schedules. They are not easily compared and result in a comparison scenario of apples and oranges. In 2019, the water saving claims in Textile Exchange’s summary of findings were challenged in an opinion piece by trade magazine Apparel Insider, but at the time, Textile Exchange supported the claim and the methodology used. to determine it.
Pitfalls of lifecycle analysis
For the Transformers Foundation report, seeking to find a credible basis for the claim, several experts were interviewed who also challenged the findings of the organic cotton LCA. The authors of the report later determined that the reason for the conclusion that organic offers considerable water savings is that it compares organic fields which are largely rain-fed to conventional cotton fields which use water. ‘irrigation. Again, apples and oranges.
Moreover, the common belief that organic cotton is rainfed while conventional cotton is irrigated also has no basis. “It is not known that the irrigated water consumption of cotton is determined by its organic or conventional status,” the report says, adding that this factor is rather determined by the climate and irrigation techniques.
Further emphasizing this flawed comparison, the report’s researchers found that while the LCAs used in the Textile Exchange summary were peer reviewed, the comparison (and, therefore, the subsequent claim regarding the use of the water) was not. Elizabeth L. Cline, co-author of the report, says we need to “use the data to solve [the] problems and challenges for which it was gathered ”, rather than reclaiming it to make comparisons out of context.
Comparison of Water Use to Verified Research
Analysis of Textile Exchange’s summary of findings, expert interviews and the latest peer-reviewed cotton data led to this conclusion: “There is no known correlation that is critically reviewed. between growing organic cotton and reducing water consumption in cotton growing. Cotton irrigated water consumption is also not determined by its organic or conventional status ”.
The report’s writers engaged the Textile Exchange in a dialogue about disinformation and strategies for accurate data analysis and reporting. They confirmed to Transformers Foundation that they removed the 91% water saving claim from their upcoming new website, noting that “comparing organic and conventional cotton in this way is misleading.”
Beth Jensen of the Textile Exchange (who was on the review board for critically reviewing the contents of the Transformers Foundation report) said: “As scientific understanding has evolved, we now know that the comparison Specific LCA studies make claims regarding material categories, considering differences in appropriate locale and other assumptions used in each LCA study ”.
Make things clear
Breaking the second myth underscores the importance of avoiding what the paper defines as a “displacement problem” – where materials are compared using data that is not comparable. For example. cotton versus polyester, or in this case, organic cotton versus conventional cotton. His advice to avoid this is to only make valid, critically reviewed, and comparable comparisons. The way to do this, they advise, is with ACVs to ensure that the ACV is approved for comparison. To stop the spread of misinformation, errors must be corrected publicly to educate consumers and members of the industry about the correct new claim.
A recent example of this (albeit tangential to cotton) is Ace and Tate turning their flawed assessment of the durability of blended polypropylene and bamboo over recycled polypropylene (along with other questionable decisions) into a swirl of positive press under the sign of transparency and humility. Setting the record straight publicly can, it seems, be beneficial for all facets of sustainability – environmental, social and economic.
Stay tuned for Myth 3 burst: That cotton is a water thirsty crop. I will also explore the water cycle, and explain why the water used by cotton does not disappear, but how and where it moves, and the consequences.