Sustainability, a definition
Sustainability seeks to achieve a successful balance between quality of life, environment and economics.

Sustainability, in relation to cotton
Both conventionally and organically produced from the U.S. can achieve this balance of quality of life, environment and economics sought for sustainability. Mills, brands, retailers and consumers can be assured that the U.S. cotton industry supports sustainability as defined above, and the goal of environmental, economic, health and social responsibility for production agriculture.



link to the makers


Cotton is a natural and renewable fiber. It has been used to dress and protect humankind for at least 7,000 years and today, cotton is the fabric of a global industry. The finished fiber surrounds, comforts and nourishes us on a daily basis.

To ensure people can continue to reap cotton’s natural benefits today and in the future, the U.S. cotton industry is committed to responsibly producing cotton using the best and latest available science and technology, taking into account economics, environment and social responsibility. 

Responsible agricultural production must balance a growing economy, protection for the environment and social responsibility:

  • Environment: To minimize impact on soil, water, air and other resources, and reduce chemical and energy use
  • Quality of life: To satisfy personal, family and community needs for health, safety, food and happiness
  • Economics: To be profitable and to ensure jobs and income in a successful economy for the future

The most sustainable choice is the one where the net effects come closest to meeting these goals. 


COTTON USA believes that responsibly grown cotton:

  • Uses resources responsibly
  • Optimizes efficiencies
  • Minimizes water, energy, chemical use, waste and environmental impacts
  • Provides safe and dignified working conditions
  • Provides social and economic benefits to local communities

U.S. cotton producers are leading the way in responsible cotton production practices. 


U.S. cotton has a track record of continuous improvement with respect to water and crop protection chemical use, and habitat and soil preservation. The transparency of the U.S. system allows for constant monitoring and improvement. The roughly 13,000 U.S. cotton growers comply with the stringent U.S. regulatory requirements and are committed to the principle of continuous improvement. 

Modern technology minimizes the environmental impact of cotton production.

U.S. cotton farming utilizes the most advanced modern techniques -- this means there is now less land, water and energy use, less soil erosion, and reduced pesticide application per unit output. Advanced production practices annually save over 1 billion liters of tractor fuel and limit greenhouse gas (CO2 equivalents) emissions. More carbon is stored in the fiber and seed than emitted into the air.

U.S. cotton can supply the world’s increasing demand for natural fibers on less land.

Modern seed technology, conservation tillage practices and utilization of the most advanced production technology practices help U.S. farmers increase cotton yields while using less land and resources. Cotton yields have doubled in the last 30 years. U.S. cotton farmers have been able to supply the market and meet annual rise in fiber demand on reduced land area, freeing land for conservation and other uses.

U.S. cotton growers use the most advanced, best available management practices and scientifically sound technologies adapted to local land and climatic conditions.

U.S. growers have descriptions of how to produce cotton in a responsible/more sustainable manner, with guidelines and assistance from national industry associations, through USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), and from state departments of agriculture and universities. The USDA extension service provides continuous education and best management practices to U.S. producers. The USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) does extensive research on cotton production, harvesting, ginning, and post-harvest cotton processes.

U.S. regulatory agencies treat cotton as a food crop.

Cotton is a food, feed and fiber crop. Since cottonseed is used for both human food and animal feed—including for dairy cows— in the U.S., any crop protection products that are used in the production of cotton must meet the same strict regulations as any food crop. Cottonseed oil is used as a salad and cooking oil, cottonseed protein is used in human foods, and cotton linters are used to make products that are used in many foods such as soups and in pharmaceuticals.

U.S. cotton production is governed by a stringent regulatory system, which ensures fiber and food safety.

U.S. cotton production has mandatory, enforceable federal regulations through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Occupation Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and other federal agencies that have to be met in order to produce cotton. 

U.S. cotton production uses a small amount of pesticides compared with other crops.

Farmers who have lived and worked on their land for generations have every personal and economic incentive to use fewer chemicals in production. Globally, in 2009 only 6.8% of all pesticides applied to crops are used to grow cotton, while fruits and vegetables consumed about 29% and cereal crops including rice and corn about 35%.

From a chemical residue standpoint, conventional raw U.S. cotton fiber is no different than organic cotton and satisfies eco-label standards. 

Test results since 1993 for pesticide residues on raw cotton fiber by the Bremen Cotton Exchange in Germany show that all tested cotton, including U.S. cotton, satisfies EU Eco-Label standards and easily passes the regulations for foodstuffs. They state that cotton, under German law, theoretically could be used as a foodstuff.

U.S. cotton is very drought- and heat- tolerant.

Two-thirds of U.S. cotton is produced using only rainfall – no supplemental irrigation. When supplemental irrigation water is needed, advanced irrigation methods that minimize water use are utilized.


Cotton plays a role in reducing greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming.

Cotton plants, like all plants, extract CO2 from the air and emit oxygen back into the atmosphere. The world cotton crop removes about 36 million MT of CO2 annually; the U.S. crop removes about 5-6 million MT.

Consumers consider cotton as safe.

Results from the Global Lifestyle Monitor™ show that consumers consider cotton to be the safest fiber for the environment, rating it a positive 8.13 on a 0 to 10 scale.

Consumers prefer natural fibers such as cotton.

Results from the Global Lifestyle Monitor™ show that 68% of consumers would pay more for clothes made of natural fibers such as cotton, and more than half of consumers surveyed worldwide believe that better quality clothes are made from 100 percent natural fiber such as cotton.

Cotton is a principal contributor to local economies.

The production and processing of natural fibers worldwide employs hundreds of millions of people, particularly in developing countries. Cotton alone generates hundreds of billions of dollars in economic activity as it moves from production at the farm level through processing and retail.


The U.S. cotton industry supports the initiatives aimed at measuring impacts and reporting to other industry members and the general public. The U.S. cotton industry and cotton industry associations support participation by industry members through initiatives such as Cotton LEADSTM, Field to Market, the Sustainable Apparel Coalition ( and its Higg index ( 


The U.S. cotton industry recognizes that sustainability requires a commitment to continual improvement, and its leadership in the Cotton LEADS™ program demonstrates the industry’s committment to responsibly-produced cotton. Cotton LEADS™ is a joint program initiated by the United States and Australia to promote awareness of the responsible cotton production practices undertaken in these two countries. Combined, Australia and the United States account for roughly 17 percent of global cotton production. 

Cotton LEADS™ assures retailers, brands and textile manufacturers seeking transparency in their supply chain that their partners can easily source reliable and responsible raw material. This program is built upon core principles that are consistent with sustainability, the use of best practices and traceability in the supply chain.

Specify the Cotton LEADS™ program as one of your preferred cottons, at no cost to your organization, and join Australia and the United States in leading the way toward responsible cotton production.

Cotton LEADS™ is also actively involved in benchmarking beyond the agriculture boundary. The Cotton Life Cycle Inventory (LCI) aims to provide a global comprehensive inventory of data relating to cotton production and textile manufacturing. The associated Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) utilizes global LCI data to present a comprehensive cradle-to-grave examination of representative cotton products, specifically knit golf shirts and woven pants, and includes garment creation, consumer product use and maintenance, transportation and product end-of-life. The LCA is another way that Cotton LEADS™ is leading the way in sustainable cotton supply chains.

For more information on the Cotton LEADS™ program, visit


While U.S. cotton growers have long focused on how to protect their land and the environment, they recognize that there are always ways to improve agriculture’s sustainability. One of the most important initiatives in which the U.S. cotton industry is a highly active participant is called Field to Market, The Keystone Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture.  

Field to Market is a diverse initiative that joins producers, agribusinesses, food companies and conservation organizations seeking to create sustainable outcomes for agriculture. Field to Market defines sustainable agriculture as:

  • Meeting the needs of the present while improving the ability of future generations to meet their own needs
  • Increasing productivity to meet future food demands
  • Improving environmental impacts
  • Improving human health
  • Improving the economic and social well-being of agricultural communities

The group provides collaborative leadership that is engaged in industry-wide dialogue, grounded in science, open to the full range of technology choices, and committed to creating opportunities across the agricultural supply chain for continuous improvements in productivity, environmental quality and human well-being. The initiative is organized and facilitated by the Keystone Center, a non-profit dedicated to developing collaborative solutions to societal issues.


The U.S. cotton industry is part of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, a trade organization comprised of brands, retailers, manufacturers, government, and non-governmental organizations and academic experts, representing more than a third of the global apparel and footwear market. It is working to reduce the environmental and social impacts of apparel products around the world.

The focus of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition is the Higg Index, an indicator-based tool for apparel that allows clothing manufacturers and brands to evaluate material types, products, facilities and processes based on a range of environmental and product design choices.

The Higg Index 1.0 was developed for apparel products and measures environmental outcomes in water use and quality, energy and greenhouse gas, waste, and chemicals and toxicity. The Index is a tool to help organizations standardize how they measure and evaluate environmental performance of apparel products across the supply chain at the brand, product and facility levels. It asks practice-based, qualitative questions to gauge environmental sustainability performance and drive behavior for improvement. On December 11, 2013 the Sustainable Apparel Coalition unveiled an updated version of the Higg Index – the Higg Index 2.0 Suite of Tools.

Cotton Incorporated developed the Life Cycle Inventory (LCI) and Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) data for cotton (, a key benchmarking tool that is used for cotton data in the Higg Index. Cotton Incorporated conducted an evaluation of cotton production’s impact on the environment, which forms the basis of a life cycle inventory (LCI) of the agricultural production of cotton, a prerequisite for conducting the more comprehensive life cycle analysis (LCA) of a cotton product. LCA is a scientific process that considers the whole life of a product: input, output and how the product interacts with the environment (i.e., air, water and waste). Important considerations are: energy, water and chemical use, as well as generating less waste via methods such as recycling.

For more information about the Higg Index 2.0, visit the Sustainable Apparel Coalition’s website: and