Meeting the textile needs of a growing global population presents a set of unintended consequences, reaching from farm fields to the washers and dryers in our homes. Millions of pounds of oil-based chemical pesticides and fertilizers are used to grow cotton. Not only can these pesticides leach into our water supplies and negatively impact the health of the farmers that use them, but our reliance on them contributes to our world’s growing dependency on oil. Cotton farming also requires a tremendous amount of water. Still, many argue that the greatest consequence of the growing demand for textiles is the energy used to launder the sheets, towels and clothes that are made out of them. In the United States, washers and dryers generate the same amount of greenhouse gas as having 2 million cars on the road annually.
The textile SVN’s mission is to reduce the unintended costs associated with our supply chain so that we can offer customers sustainable clothing and textiles at affordable prices. As we work toward this goal, we have reached significant milestones, and we continue to set new ones. Today, we are the largest single purchaser of organic cotton in the world, and the world’s largest purchaser of conversion cotton – cotton grown without chemicals, but waiting to be certified as organic. We expect to see an estimated 20 percent increase in organic cotton sales in 2007 over 2006. Our efforts in this area have protected water, soil, farmers and habitats from exposure to millions of pounds of toxic, oil-based chemicals and pesticides.
We are also exploring new alternative fibers. We are currently working with recycled fibers, bamboo and soybean to explore how we can provide high-quality textiles that are both affordable and have limited environmental impact. From 2006 to 2007, we estimate a 15.5 percent increase in sales of alternative fibers.
As we work to minimize the impact of textiles, we recognize that we need to examine the entire life cycle of the product – even after it leaves the store. One way that we can do this is through post-purchase care labeling. Today, we are working with our ASDA stores in the United Kingdom to test a labeling program that suggests cold water wash for clothing. Already, the George brand in the United Kingdom has dropped the recommended wash instructions on all of the clothing in its line to 30 degrees Celsius. Additional findings from this program will help to position our next steps in post-care labeling.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, we are nearing the launch of a supplier scorecard. The scorecard will ask questions about factory sourcing and post-production areas. When launched, it will enable us to more effectively engage the support of our supply chain to meet our SVN goals of identifying and minimizing inefficiencies within product life cycles and drive continuous improvement within our supplier base.
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Facts and Figures
Today, Wal-Mart is the largest single purchaser of organic cotton in the world, and the world's largest purchaser of conversion cotton – cotton grown without chemicals, but waiting to be certified as organic.
In 2007, we partnered with a large cotton spinner to commit to the purchase of more than 10 million pounds of conversion cotton. Our aim was not only to use and sell the product, but to ultimately help establish a means to market the cotton as a more sustainable alternative to conventional cotton.
Conversion cotton is a great example of the complexity involved in expanding the organic textile industry. To be fully certified as organic cotton, cotton must be grown on virgin land, which is land that has not been farmed in the three previous years, or has gone through a three-year conversion period. During this conversion period, many farmers see a reduction in output for the first few years. In addition to this reduction, the input costs increase, as the crops must begin the certification process, yet cannot be sold as organic for three years. In the past, these conversion crops were being sold as conventional cotton at a much lower price, so many farmers simply stopped converting to organic production.