Can Good Soil Save Us?

Lately I’ve been  thinking more about soil than I ever thought I would as a designer. If you’ve seen the documentary ‘Kiss the Ground’ or read the book “The Third Plate,” you might also be giving more thought to the ground beneath your feet. Who knew that good soil might save us all?


A couple of weeks ago, the New York Times exposed an open unattractive truth about cotton, specifically organic cotton. There is just not enough supply to satisfy the market and that has lead to a lot of ‘greenwashing.’ The sad truth is consumers want to buy sustainably and some companies are more than ok with misleading them.


Not just a few companies are overcharging for what they call ‘certified’ organic cotton. With pent up demand and customers willing to pay, it has created an entire industry passing regular cotton off as organic. Honestly, sometimes it is hard to tell the difference – even for someone in the industry for the past 15 years. Sadly, false certifications are thriving – mostly in India – the world’s largest supplier of cotton – organic and conventional.  


The confusion is a marketing gold mine. Scare consumers on the pesticides in conventional cotton, then charge more for organic – and make a fat profit. Or complain about conventional cotton, and steer consumers to the much cheaper man-made fibers like polyester – just ignore how bad polyester is for the environment (absolutely terrible) – and make a fat profit.


But here is the good news: cotton – both conventional and organic - when farmed correctly can actually reduce carbon. It is a plant afterall, so like all plants, it sequesters carbon out of the atmosphere and keeps it in the ground.


In the past 20 years, there has been a movement to make cotton farming more efficient by building up the health of the soil and using water more efficiently. If just 20% of cotton farmers worldwide adopted no-till methods – where the land is not turned up before planting -  and used drip irrigation – where plants are on a water drip so no water is wasted - it would reduce carbon to the tune of 3.9 million tons per year, according to the trade organization Better Cotton Initiative. That’s like taking 700,000 cards off the road per year.


Even if you are just choose regular cotton – and you have no idea if it is non-GMO, certified organic, no-till, drip irrigated - you are still helping to sequester carbon. In fact, cotton sequesters more carbon than it needs to produce it each year to satisfy worldwide demand.


Of course, there is nothing quite as healthy for you and for the planet that real organic handloom cotton – like the kind we produce.  Most of the chemicals found in normal cotton is usually the finishing chemicals – none of which we use in handloom. There are choices to be made on so many levels – so going ‘green’ is only possible by educating yourself and picking your battles.


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