The modern cotton industry has achieved significant environmental gains over the past forty years, but it is not resting on its laurels. Around the world, scientists and researchers strive to develop new ways to grow, process and manufacture cotton more efficiently and with increasingly less impact on the environment. Identifying and implementing new technologies and practices will help the cotton industry meet the current needs for productivity and profit, without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
Increasingly responsible production and manufacturing are not objectives the cotton industry take lightly. As a natural fiber, the success of cotton is directly linked to the land and its health. Being good stewards of the environment requires continuous attention to reducing impact throughout every link in cotton’s long supply chain—from the seeds from which cotton is grown, to the processing and manufacturing practices of finished cotton goods.
To help meet the textile fiber and other needs of the Earth’s growing population, projected to reach nine billion by 2050, the cotton industry must simultaneously reduce environmental impact and increase the volume of cotton grown. With much of the world’s arable land already under cultivation, clothing the Earth’s people with natural fiber textiles in 2050 means fiber production on existing farmlands must triple.
The engine that will advance is this goal is technology. Around the world, dedicated cotton researchers are advancing technologies and practices of cotton production and manufacturing.
A case in point is U.S. cotton producers who have over the past 40 years embraced new methods and innovations that have reduced pesticide applications by 50%, reduced irrigated water applications by 45%, and increased fiber production without without expanding acreage. Research has also played a significant role in developing uses for the cotton plant, including its ginning byproducts, thereby reducing and eliminating what had once been considered to be bio-waste. Ongoing areas of research include ways of enhance the innate drought tolerance of cotton plants, as well as their resistance to predatory pests.
These environmental advances, and the pursuit of additional ones like them, are enabling the cotton industry to fulfill the demands of present—and future—generations, making the cotton industry a key player in a sustainable future.