The 2008 Beltwide Cotton Conferences have an unmistakable green tint this year, as sustainability and consumer interests highlight the environmental footprint of just about everything U.S. agriculture does.
J.C. Penneys' Product Development Director Peter McGrath says his customers want positive answers to environmental and sustainability questions, therefore his suppliers, the cotton producer, must be able to answer those questions positively.
A classic "voice from the consumer" came from Peter McGrath, vice president and product development director for J.C. Penney Company. That voice was loud and clear -- speaking from the end-user of cotton, the retail customer -- and it says, "How is this product affecting the environment and the world's overall social well-being?" With 1,200 stores and a customer base trained to look for cotton, McGrath's comments applied to everyone in the cotton industry from the textile mill back to the grower.
"Sustainability" is on our customers' minds, McGrath says, and we have to be able to answer sustainability questions honestly when they come in to buy denim or a cotton shirt.
McGrath, while admitting "sustainability" means many things to many people, says his company is dedicated from top to bottom to being environmentally responsible, from recycling paper for its famous catalog, to recycling more than 95% of the packaging stores handle each year. In addition, Penneys scores suppliers with a "green" check list. The list goes so far as to demand effluent water quality from mills to be the same in the developing countries as it is required in the United States. Penneys has a restricted chemical policy that bans certain dyes from use in Pennys products, and looks for suppliers who want to do a better job of producing more with fewer inputs.
That, makes it very important for the cotton industry also to be able to answer "green" questions affirmatively -- especially since Pennys is second only to Wal-Mart in the amount of cotton it consumes.
While the cotton industry has been busy over the past two years collecting information on its own environmental impacts (with good results, see www.cottoninc.com) both McGrath and Cotton Incorporated's President Berrye Worsham say the consumer doesn't really want to pay much -- if any -- more for a "green" product. McGrath says his company's finding bears that out, and Worsham says CI research echoes it. Ultimately, the men's messages add up to: "green" "sustainable" probably even "organic" will become the market -- without or with very little premium to the producer and processor.
Berrye Worsham of Cotton Incorporated says the cotton industry has a good environmental record, one worthy of promotion.
Worsham says the cotton industry has had to collect data on itself because of the changing consumer interests, as well as press and non-governmental organization attacks on the industry labeling it a polluter and an ecologically unsustainable business.
"The facts are, with precision agriculture and conservation tillage, we are producing more cotton on increasingly fewer acres each year, which saves tons of top soil and reduces tons of chemical applications," Worsham explains.
In fact, in a Cotton Council International breakfast Wednesday, CCI President Michael Adams quoted research showing a single pair of denim jeans to be responsible for the release of 2.2 lbs. of oxygen (through the growing of the cotton crop) and the removal of 3.3 lbs. of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere (through carbon sequestration in cotton roots and the photosynthetic process of cotton production).
Because of the public's increased awareness of things environmental, nearly half of Cotton Incorporated's advertising budget in 2008 will be devoted to a new "green theme" that tells of cotton's environmentally-friendly nature and where to find facts supporting that case.
CI notes in its newly-printed literature: "Sustainability seeks to balance quality of life, environment and economics." That means society's needs for health, safety, food and happiness have to be considered along with practices to enhance soil, water and other resources in a manner which ensures a profitable business to maintain jobs and a successful economy. "Where those three categories overlap, is where we have to be as an industry," Worsham explains.