Better Cotton Releases Our First Study on GHG Emissions

A new report published on 15 October 2021 has revealed the first-ever quantification of global greenhouse gas emissions of Better Cotton and comparable production. The report, conducted by Anthesis Group and commissioned by Better Cotton in 2021, found significantly lower emissions from Better Cotton licensed farmers’ cotton production.

Anthesis analysed more than 200,000 farm assessments from three seasons (2015-16 to 2017-18) and used the Cool Farm Tool as the GHG emissions calculation engine. The primary data provided by Better Cotton covered input use and types, farm sizes, production and approximate geographical locations, while some information was filled via desk research where primary data was not available.

The aims of this study were two-fold. Firstly, we wanted to understand if Better Cotton farmers have produced lower emissions while growing cotton than comparable non-Better Cotton farmers. Secondly, we wanted to quantify emissions for producers contributing 80% of Better Cotton global production and use this baseline to set a global emissions reductions target for 2030.

Results from our comparative analysis

To understand if Better Cotton farmers have produced lower emissions while growing cotton than comparable non-Better Cotton farmers, comparison data was provided by Better Cotton. Each season its partners collect and report data from farmers cultivating cotton in the same geographic areas using same or similar technologies, but who are not yet participating in the Better Cotton programme. The study found that on average Better Cotton production had a 19% lower emissions intensity per tonne lint than comparison production across China, India, Pakistan, Tajikistan and Turkey.

Over half of the difference in emissions performance between Better Cotton and comparison production was due to difference in emissions from fertiliser production. A further 28% of the difference was because of emissions from irrigation. 

On average Better Cotton production had a 19% lower emissions intensity per tonne lint than comparison production across China, India, Pakistan, Tajikistan and Turkey.

This will enable emissions reduction strategies across Better Cotton’s and its partners’ major production areas to implement meaningful and measurable climate change mitigation actions.

Analysis that informs Better Cotton’s 2030 Strategy

We aim to make, and demonstrate, positive real-world change for the climate. This means having a baseline and measuring change over time. To help inform our forthcoming 2030 strategy and associated global target on emissions reduction, we requested a separate piece of analysis to assess emissions from Better Cotton (or recognised equivalent) production constituting over 80% of licensed Better Cotton’s global production across Brazil, India, Pakistan, China and the US. The analysis breaks down emissions drivers for each state or province per country. This will enable emissions reduction strategies across Better Cotton’s and its partners’ major production areas to implement meaningful and measurable climate change mitigation actions.

The study found production had average annual GHG emissions of 8.74 million tonnes carbon dioxide equivalents to produce 2.98 million tonnes lint – equating to 2.93 tonnes carbon dioxide equivalents per tonne lint produced. Unsurprisingly, the largest emissions hotspot was found to be fertiliser production, which accounted for 47% of total emissions from Better Cotton production. Irrigation and fertiliser application were also found to be significant drivers of emissions.

Better Cotton’s next steps on GHG Emissions

Set a 2030 Target

  • Better Cotton will set a 2030 target on GHG emissions reduction. This will be informed by climate science and the collective ambition of the apparel and textile sector, including notably the UNFCCC Fashion Charter of which Better Cotton is a member.
  • Better Cotton’s emissions target will sit within our comprehensive climate change strategy currently under development.
Photo Credit: BCI/Vibhor Yadav

Take Action Towards the Target

  • Given their sizable contribution to total emissions, reductions in the use of synthetic fertilisers and irrigation can unlock significant reductions in emissions. Efficiency improvements through better yields will also contribute to reducing emissions intensity, i.e. GHGs emitted per tonne of cotton grown.
  • The adoption of management practices such as cover cropping, mulching, no/reduced tillage and application of organic manures offer significant opportunities to reduce emissions through carbon sequestration. These practices can simultaneously have a positive impact on conserving soil moisture and enhancing soil health.
  • Galvanising collective action where it matters most will also support emissions reductions – this includes identifying hotspots, leveraging new resources and advocating for change outside Better Cotton’s direct scope (e.g. approximately 10% of Better Cotton emissions to produce cotton lint comes from ginning. If half the ginning operations were supported to transition away from fossil fuel-powered energy to renewables, Better Cotton emissions would reduce by 5%).

Photo Credit: BCI/Morgan Ferrar.

Monitor & Report Against the Target

  • Better Cotton is partnering on a project led by the Gold Standard, which will provide guidance and credibility to Better Cotton’s emissions quantification method. We are testing the Cool Farm Tool as a scientific, credible and scalable approach to help us monitor change in emissions over time.
  • The collection of additional data from Better Cotton farmers and projects will enable refinement of the emissions quantification process in subsequent years.

Download the report below and access our recent Better Cotton Update on Measuring and Reporting Greenhouse Gas Emissions Webinar and presentation slides to find more details from the report.

Learn more about Better Cotton’s work on Greenhouse Gas Emissions.

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Better Cotton Appears in Ecotextile News Addressing Climate Change

On 4 October 2021, Ecotextile News published “Can cotton cool climate change?”, exploring the role cotton growing plays in climate change. The article looks closely at Better Cotton’s climate strategy and draws from an interview with Lena Staafgard, COO, and Chelsea Reinhardt, Director of Standards and Assurance, to understand how we plan to impact climate change mitigation and adaptation.

Accelerating the pace of change

With Better Cotton’s recent study on GHG emissions commissioned with Anthesis and our work with Cotton 2040, we now have better information to identify the areas contributing most to emissions and which regions will be most affected by climate change. Our existing Standard and programmes implemented on-the-ground by partners and farmers across the Better Cotton network currently address these issue areas. But we need to act fast to build on what already exists to deepen our impact.

What we are looking to do really is to refine our focus and accelerate the pace of change, to have a deeper impact in those particular areas that are the big drivers of emissions.

– Chelsea Reinhardt, Director of Standards and Assurance

Collaborating across the cotton sector

The recent Cotton 2040 study shows that half of all cotton growing areas are at high risk of extreme weather conditions in the coming decades, and we have the opportunity to take action in these regions with our potential to convene relevant stakeholders. There are challenges in providing solutions that are relevant to localised conditions, so we are using our nuanced understanding of these issues and are in a position to address them with appropriate strategies through the network we have. Ensuring we bring smallholder and large farm contexts into our approach is important.

We should be able to get there, but it’s going to be difficult and it’s going to require a lot of collaboration, pulling in the technology and the knowledge we have at the large farms and finding ways of making it available at smallholder level where so much of the world’s agriculture takes place.

Lena Staafgard, COO

Better Cotton is in a position where we have the resources and network to collaborate towards change. Join our upcoming Member-Only Webinar to learn more about Better Cotton’s 2030 Strategy on Climate Change.

Read the full Ecotextile News article, “Can cotton cool climate change?”

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Fighting Drought With Better Cotton Farmers in Australia

“Precision irrigation and water-saving techniques are becoming more important as water scarcity concerns rise. The Better Cotton Initiative and Cotton Australia are helping farmers raise their yields, improve their resilience to extreme weather and protect the environment.” Rick Kowitz, Cotton Australia, 2019

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Learning First-Hand from Better Cotton Farmers in Pakistan: Q&A with Better Cotton’s Communications Coordinator

When BCI staff member Morgan Ferrar from the global communications team visited Pakistan, she saw how families’ lives are improving since cotton farmers have joined the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) programme, and how it can be the start of a very different future for communities.


What was the reason for your visit to Pakistan?

Supporting farmers is at the heart of our work and is the reason for BCI’s existence. In Pakistan, there are more than 90,000 licensed BCI Farmers. I visited two Punjabi districts, Muzaffargarh and Rahim Yar Khan, to meet some of these farmers and hear about their experiences and perspectives directly. I wanted to understand the unique challenges that these farmers face and learn about how they are adopting more sustainable agricultural practices to overcome these challenges.

There was a particular family that I was curious to meet. BCI Farmer Jam Muhammad Saleem, from rural village Jhangar Marha in Muzaffargarh, Punjab, was struggling to make ends meet. He saw no choice but for his 12-year-old son to leave school to work alongside him and his wife to tend their farm. But when Saleem started participating in BCI training sessions in 2017, organised by our field-level partner WWF-Pakistan, his outlook completely changed. This is a powerful example of how BCI works to eliminate child labour. I spent time with Saleem and his family and I asked them if they would like to share their story with the world. Stay tuned!


What are the challenges in cotton production in Pakistan that you learnt about?

One of the main challenges that Pakistani cotton farmers have experienced recently is extreme weather conditions caused by climate change. Specifically, low rainfall and rain falling at irregular times of the year. Low rainfall can lead to drought conditions and insufficient water for healthy growth. Dehydrated cotton plants, pushed beyond their capacity to cope with dry conditions, can shed their cotton bolls before the harvest, depleting farmers’ yields. Meanwhile, a lack of water can also bring new insect problems, as crop-destroying insects move from less hardy host plants to attack cotton instead.

In some instances, these challenges can foment farmers’ reluctance to allowing their children to attend school, fearing that without their child’s help on the farm, their crops will surely fail. To overcome resistance to children’s education, we seek to address and secure children’s rights to education, health, development and well-being through a series of structured training sessions that take place each season. Farmers learn how farm work impacts on children’s health and wellbeing, why children should be kept away from pesticides and hazardous tasks, and about the value of education as well as national labour laws.


Tell me about some of the farmers that you met and the experiences that they shared with you?

First, I met Muhammad Mustafa, who was so full of energy and was eager to tell me about the improvements in his life. Through the BCI programme, he had learnt new techniques to farm cotton in a more sustainable way by reducing his pesticide usage. This has saved Mustafa money that he would otherwise be using on expensive chemical pesticides, and because of this, he and his family have been able to move into a more spacious house. However, what Mustafa was most proud of was that because of his reduced spending on inputs, he can even now afford for his eldest daughter to attend college.

I then met Mustafa’s childhood friend, Shahid Mehmood, who is also a cotton farmer. Mehmood shared similar perspectives to Mustafa’s; his profit had increased by reducing the amount he spent on inputs, and because of this he could afford to send his children to school. Another BCI Farmer I met, Afzal Faisal, had enough additional income to create a new revenue stream on the side of cotton production; supplying solar panels to other farmers in the community.

The farmers I met in Pakistan are undeniably proud to be cotton farmers – that they can continue to do what they love, while increasing their yields and profits, using the additional income to create new revenue streams and send their children to school enriched their lives more than I could’ve possibly imagined. It was on this day that I truly gained first-hand perspective about the impact BCI is having at field-level in Pakistan.


What are the next steps?

We are incredibly proud of BCI Farmers like Saleem, Mustafa and Mehmood, who are committed to producing cotton in a more environmentally and socially sustainable way. In every country where Better Cotton is grown, there are many more successful BCI Farmers who have experiences and perspectives to share. At BCI, we are committed to amplifying these stories to a global audience to keep the momentum going and expand the BCI movement. This helps more farmers gain access to knowledge and training, building their capacity to implement sustainable agricultural practices. You can learn more about the experiences of BCI Farmers here.


Image: Morgan Ferrar with BCI Farmer Nasreem Bibi. Rahim Yar Khan, Punjab, Pakistan. 2018.


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