Sustainable Cotton, the e3 Program, and the Better Cotton Initiative

Thursday, July 25, 2013

With the formal announcement last week of the e3 cotton program from Bayer, I wanted to share an interview I gave with the California Apparel News recently that helps to place e3 in the context of the Better Cotton Initiative and sustainable cotton production in general.


Editor's Note:  Sustainability is a major topic among brands, consumers, environmentalists, farmers,  manufacturers and retailers. But few people know what it means and if it is even possible. We sat down with Robert Antoshak, managing director at Olah Inc., and talked about sustainable cotton, the Better Cotton Initiative and a new project called E3.

What is sustainable cotton?

Sustainable cotton is practical cotton. By that, I mean it is cotton that can be produced year in and year out without harm to the environment—thanks to proven growing practices, better technology and the willingness of industry to produce environmentally-friendly products. How? Sustainable cotton also means that the acres used to produce cotton today will be available to produce cotton tomorrow. Why? Sustainable cotton meets the needs of an increasingly sophisticated and environmentally attuned consumer.

Who cares about sustainable cotton, globally?

The entire textile supply chain is preoccupied with locating and preserving sustainable cotton sources. Consumers demand cotton that is produced under the most stringent of practices with a minimum of pesticides and according to internationally recognized labor standards. Moreover, consumers today look for products that are environmentally friendly. As a result, the pressure is on the entire cotton textile supply chain to develop best practices when growing cotton to include adherence to measurable, global standards.

How did the concept develop?

The concept of sustainable cotton grew out of the desire on the part of farmers, textile producers, brands and retailers to meet consumer demand for a renewable source of cotton. At first, companies around the world sought out cotton farmed using organic methods without pesticides to meet the demands of more environmentally sensitive consumers. However, in time, the broader industry realized that there was not enough organic cotton in the world to meet demand. In fact, less than one percent of all the cotton produced in the world today is certifiably organic. 

Sustainable production, on the other hand, is widely available. Farmers throughout the world already sustainably produce their cotton. However, certifying and ensuring that the cotton is truly sustainable and meet best production standards is another matter. While several organizations have developed standards for organic cotton, a global standard for sustainable cotton has been slow to develop and only recently has the industry joined forces to establish stringent guidelines for sustainable cotton. 

What is BCI?

BCI is the Better Cotton Initiative, an innovative industry effort to support the sustainable production of cotton throughout the world. BCI Is supported by companies such as IKEA, Levi-Strauss, Marks & Spencers, H&M, Nike, Adidas and other major retail and apparel brands. Founded in 2005, BCI has led the effort to establish standards for sustainable cotton, along with guidelines for third party verification.

What is E3™?

E3™ is a sustainable cotton program just introduced by Bayer CropScience. The E3™ program aims to be environmentally responsible, economically viable and socially equitable and provides stringent guidelines for farmers in the United States that grow Certified FiberMax® or Authentic Stoneville®, programs that allow buyers to identify where their cotton was grown utilizing a certification database maintained exclusively by Bayer CropScience. 

Is E3 easily accessible?

Yes it is. Just visit for all of the details. 

How does E3’s pricing compare to conventional cotton?

E3™ costs a little more, but the benefits far outweigh the costs. Enrollment by the farmer is voluntary but once enrolled farmers make a commitment to the program and to continuous improvement. Farm performance is self-evaluated though the Fieldprint® Calculator and third party verified with audits in season and post-harvest. At harvest, bales are entered into the database and the certified product is sent to the brand.

What social and environmental issues does the E3 program address?

First, E3™ is socially equitable to address issues of working/living conditions of growers and laborers, needs of the surrounding community, consumer health and safety aspects. Next, E3™ is economically viable to meet the individual economic needs of the farmers, farm families, farm workers and customers, and to make the farms financially competitive enterprises and consistently profitable from year-to-year. Finally, E3™ is an environmentally responsible program that encourages reduced use of water, land and energy while maintaining productivity.

The Fieldprint® Calculator self-assessment shows the farmer the impact of farming practices on natural resources, in turn helping them to operate efficiently and establishing a point of comparison with local data averages. Thus, farmers can identify areas where improvements can be made, regarding sustainability factors such as productivity, land use, soil loss, irrigation water use, energy use and greenhouse gas emission. As the E3™ program is voluntary, its scale is only limited by the number of U.S. growers that sign up for the program. 

For more information on BCI, E3 and cotton sourcing, or call 212-260-9266. 

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