Where Sustainability Begins
Sustainability Starts with e3. Actually, it starts with an S, but it should start with e3 since that is BASF’s Agri-Services sustainable cotton protocol and certification process.
For a product to be certified to the e3 standard, 100% of the cotton used to produce that product must be sustainably grown and able to be traced from a garment on a store shelf back to the farm where it was grown. E3 differs from other programs like Cotton Leads or the Better Cotton Initiative because all representations made are independently verified through the MyFarms system.
These requirements can make it hard to achieve e3 certification, but the environmental impact is worth it.
E3 is based on minimal-to-zero till agriculture crops and uses cover crops and highly efficient water practices to both minimize man-made inputs and maximize soil health. The net effect of this is that rather than creating 400 pounds per acres of Co2 greenhouse gas emissions, e3 production results in a carbon capture of 300 pounds per acre. Vidalia Mills is the first mill in the world to exclusively use 100% e3-certified cotton. From the 28,000 acres of farmland that are needed to grow the cotton for Vidalia Mills to use, we will be capturing 8.4 million pounds per year in greenhouse gas emissions.
Producing denim made with 100% e3 cotton is the first element of our total sustainability process. Vidalia Mills also is specifically using the e3 standard as a baseline for future standards because we know that properly-grown, responsibly-sourced cotton represents the only meaningful and viable feedstock for textile and apparel production.
Simply put, you can’t grow polyester in a field.
According to Forbes Magazine, over 70 million barrels of oil are required each year to produce the polyester in the global supply chain. The textile and apparel industry—which is responsible for 10% of total carbon emissions—ranks second only to the oil industry as a global polluter. On top of that, synthetic apparel is one of the largest sources of microplastic ocean pollution (microfibers that wash off in washing machines). Oil production in the developing world also results in significant waste and contamination of dwindling freshwater resources. (Source Forbes Dec 3, 2015)
Mitigating and reversing global climate change will require fundamental shifts in the production and profile of the textile and apparel industries, but organic cotton is no more an option than polyester because it requires more water and a has a larger negative carbon footprint than standard cotton production. By using only e3-compliant, proximately-sourced cotton for its cotton requirements, Vidalia Mills is taking a great leap forward on the road to a truly sustainable supply chain in our industry.
The US cotton industry starts from a more sustainable and better-regulated space than cotton grown in developing countries though, with US cotton requiring 8000 liters of water per kilogram as compared to 22,500 for the same kilogram grown in India. Beyond that, 65% of the US cotton crop does not require irrigation. In the Southeastern and Mid-South US cotton regions where Vidalia’s select farmers are located, that percentage is even higher.
With only 100% certified sustainable cotton sourced under its cotton manufacturing requirements, e3 is a verifiable standard that is independently monitored and does not rely on growers or trade organizations for its financial support. Other programs like the Better Cotton Initiative and Cotton USA’s Cotton Trust Protocol are based on aggregated improvement over a long period of time.
Overall, e3 is a much tougher and transparent standard that is empirically based and is not financially supported by the growers who participate in the program. We very much believe that it’s the right path forward for sustainability in our company and for the textile industry.