We have all seen the social media influencers that sell clothing, and jewelry. But what happens when this same idea is applied to the cotton industry involving water usage.
There has been a few companies and individuals who have set out to do just that and their mission. Sustainability. It’s been a staple of farm life for as long as crops have been growing. Sustainability is often described as “humanity’s target goal of human-ecosystem equilibrium,” has become a buzzword in many businesses today. While some corporate sustainability programs focus on public relations, others show genuine concern for natural resources with the importance often on water.
Levi conducted a comprehensive life cycle assessment and found that one pair of its 501 jeans uses nearly 1,000 gallons of water in its full life cycle – from growing cotton, through manufacturing, consumer care, and disposal. The company began its water sustainability program by focusing internally, and through a series of innovative finishing techniques, it reduced water use in the process by nearly 96%. It also discovered nearly 70% of that water went toward cotton production.
BETTER COTTON INITIATIVE
The solution was the Better Cotton Initiative. This global project, cofounded in 2005 by Levi and others in the textile industry, focuses on decreasing the environmental impact of cotton, improving labor standards, and increasing the economic livelihood for farmers. It also requires that farmers use water efficiently and care for its availability. Initiative reports that in the many countries it operates in, farmers use up to 18% less water than non-better cotton initiative farmers in comparable locations.
According to Levi’s website in 2015, they sourced 12% of their total cotton through the program up from 7% in 2014. By 2020, their goal is to use 100% sustainable cotton through sources such as the initiative and recycled cotton, significantly reducing their total water footprint.
They are not trying to tell farmers what they have to do or by what percentage they have to reduce water consumption. However, their principles and criteria do state they have to adopt a water stewardship plan to help protect and conserve local water resources stated founder of the initiative.
That includes mapping water resources, managing soil moisture, and applying efficient irrigation practices to optimize water productivity and sustainability.
Todd Straley, an ambassador for BCI, says members of the Cotton Growers don’t have any trouble meeting the initiative’s mandates. Consequently, he has helped many of his customers adopt low energy precision application systems, including bubblers that operate at low pressures ranging from 6 to 20 psi. These systems also deliver at least 20% more water to the soil than conventional spray nozzles.
Some growers have installed drip irrigation systems. Drip can cost around $1,200 per acre to install, but through government cost-sharing programs, they can get that down to about $600. Drag hoses work well, referring to the emitter hoses that replace the nozzles on a center pivot. Dragged behind the pivot, they deliver irrigation water directly to the soil surface.
SUSTAINABLE FARMING INITIATIVE
PepsiCo, which sources everything from potatoes to oranges and corn syrup, has also launched its own sustainable farming initiative. Its goals are to sustainably source direct agricultural raw materials by 2020 and to source non-direct major agricultural raw material ingredients by 2025. That includes improving the water-use efficiency of its direct ag supply chain by 15% in high water-risk sourcing areas. One way it’s done that is by partnering with groups like The Nature Conservancy.
The nonprofit also helped convert several fields from flood to drip irrigation and provided the resources to install a micro sprinkler at the base of each tree in the farm’s 35-acre pecan orchard. In addition, The Nature Conservancy assisted an area group in opening Arizona’s first malt house, which has helped producers not only maximize revenue from barley but also reduces water consumption.