9. Soils used to grow the organic cotton and organic linen in the fabric have been renewed rather than depleted, and by supporting organic agriculture you’ve conserved water, mitigated climate change and ensured biodiversity.
Organic agriculture is an undervalued and underestimated climate change tool that could be one of the most powerful strategies in the fight against global warming, according to Paul Hepperly, Rodale Institute Research Manager. The Rodale Institute Farming Systems Trial (FST) soil carbon studies 1 (which covers 30 years of data) provides convincing evidence that improved global terrestrial stewardship–specifically including regenerative organic agricultural practices–can be a very effective currently available strategy for mitigating CO2 emissions.
Natural fibers, in addition to having a smaller carbon footprint in the production of the spun fiber, have many additional benefits over synthetics, even conventionally grown natural fibers:
- Natural fibers sequester carbon. Sequestering carbon is the process through which CO2 from the atmosphere is absorbed by plants through photosynthesis and stored as carbon in biomass (leaves, stems, branches, roots, etc.) and soils. Jute, for example, absorbs 2.4 tons of carbon per ton of dry fiber. 2
- Natural fibers, unlike synthetic fibers, can be digested by micro-organisms and composted (improving soil structure). In this way the fixed CO2 in the fiber will be released and the natural CO2 cycle closed. Synthetics do not decompose: in landfills they release heavy metals and other additives into soil and groundwater. Recycling requires costly separation, while incineration produces pollutants – in the case of high density polyethylene, 3 tons of CO2 emissions are produced for every 1 ton of material
burnt. 3 Left in the environment, synthetic fibers contribute, for example, to the estimated 640,000 tons of abandoned fishing nets in the world’s oceans, and the swirling masses of plastic in our oceans which are slowly polluting the water and animals in it.
Substituting organic fibers for conventionally grown fibers is not just a little better. It is lots better in all important respects:
- uses less energy for production,
- emits fewer greenhouse and other toxic gases and particulates and
- supports organic farming (which has myriad environmental, social and health benefits).
A study published by Innovations Agronomiques found that 43% less greenhouse gasses (GHG) are emitted per unit area under organic agriculture than under conventional agriculture.4 Controlled long term trials showed that organic farming adds between 100-400kg of carbon per hectare to the soil each year, compared to non-organic farming. When this stored carbon is included in the carbon footprint, it reduces the total GHG even further.5 The key lies in the handling of organic matter (OM) Because soil organic matter is primarily carbon, increasing organic matter in the soil levels directly correlates with carbon sequestration. While conventional farming typically depletes soil OM, organic farming builds it through the use of
composted animal manures and cover crops.
A study done by Dr. David Pimentel of Cornell University found that organic farming systems used 37% less energy than the energy required by conventional farming systems, largely because of the massive amounts of energy requirements needed to synthesize nitrogen fertilizers.6
IN addition to the points above which show how organic farming helps to mitigate climate change, organic farming also helps to achieve other environmental and social goals. Organic agriculture:
- eliminates the use of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and genetically modified organisms (GMOs) which is an improvement in human health and agro biodiversity
- conserves water because it makes the soil more friable so rainwater is absorbed better – lessening irrigation requirements and erosion
- ensures biodiversity
- and compared to forest soils, agricultural soils may be a more secure sink for atmospheric carbon, since they are not vulnerable to logging and wildfire.
At the fiber level it is clear that synthetics have a much bigger footprint than does any natural fiber, including wool or conventionally produced cotton. So in terms of the carbon footprint at the fiber level, any natural fiber beats any synthetic – at this point in time. Best of all is an organic natural fiber.
1 LaSalle, Tim J., and Hepperly, Paul, “Regenerative Organic Farming: A Solution to Global Warming”, Rodale Institute, http://www.rodaleinstitute.org/files/Rodale_Research_Paper‐07_30_08.pdf
3 “Why Natural Fibers”, FAO, 2009: http://www.naturalfibres2009.org/en/iynf/sustainable.html
4 Aubert, C. et al., (2009) Organic farming and climate change: major conclusions of the Clermont‐Ferrand seminar (2008) [Agriculture biologique et changement climatique : principales conclusions du colloque de Clermont‐Ferrand (2008)]. Carrefours de l’Innovation Agronomique 4. Online at <http://www.inra.fr/ciag/revue_innovations_agronomiques/volume_4_janvier_2009>
5 International Trade Centre UNCTAD/WTO and Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL); Organic Farming and Climate Change; Geneva: ITC, 2007.
6 Pimentel, David; Hepperly, Paul; Hanson, James; Seidel, Rita; Douds, David; “Organic and Conventional Farming Systems: Environmental and Economic Issues”, Report 05‐1, Cornell University, 2005.