Please activate JavaScript!
Please install Adobe Flash Player, click here for download


32 D+C Vol.42.2015:2 “The consumption of textiles is increasing steadily at a faster rate than the global popula- tion,” states Christina Böller in her book “Design in balance – Ansätze zur Nachhaltigkeit im Modede- sign”. In order to meet growing demand, cotton is now being grown on 33 million hectares in more than 80 countries. The total area amounts to 2.5 % of the world’s arable land. Producing mass quantities of a commodity is in itself problematic. In the case of cotton, cultivation has serious environmental impacts, ranging from the loss of soil fertility and biodiversity to soil salini- sation. Natural water reserves tend to be thrown out of balance as well: cotton is considered a very “thirsty” crop as its cultivation frequently goes along with the use of extreme water quantities. Moreover, farmers use genetically modified seeds as well as pesticides and fertilisers that harm the environment. Countries like the USA, Brazil and Australia grow the natural fibre in monocultures. Organically grown cotton has become increasingly popular in recent years. Nevertheless, it still makes up only a tiny percentage of global production. Organic cul- tivation must do without the synthetic pesticides that are common on conventional farms. In November 2014, the non-profit organisation Textile Exchange published the first life cycle assess- ment of organic cotton, entitled “Life cycle assess- ment (LCA) of organic cotton – a global average”. According to the study, organic cotton has signifi- cant advantages in comparison with conventional cotton. It cases 46 % less greenhouse-gas emissions, 70 % less soil salinisation and 26 % less soil erosion. It uses 91 % less land and groundwater and 62 % less energy. However, the problem of immense water consumption persists, and competition for arable land is becoming ever tougher. The rising demand for cotton is also creating a growing market for alternatives such as cellulose fibres. Also known as regenerated fibres, they belong to the group of natural fibres which are made from renewable resources (mostly from cellulose ob- tained from wood). However, producing them in- volves energy-intensive chemical processes and the use of various resources. Viscose is the best-known fibre in this category. Its production is extremely harmful to the envi­ ronment, often encouraging the illegal deforesta- tion of endangered woodlands. Cellulose fibres have a world market share of 6.8 %, which is not insubstantial. Sustainable alternatives In recent years, some manufacturers have begun to produce ecologically-optimised regenerated fibres in more sustainable ways. They rely exclusively on raw materials from certified sustainable forestry. Mar- keted varieties include Monocel, lyocell (known un- der the brand name Tencel), Modal Edelweiss, Cu- pro, acetate and triacetate. According to Lenzing, the private-sector company that is the world leader in industrially produced cellulose fibres, the fibre Alternatives to cotton Despite its natural image, the conventional cultivation of cotton has serious impacts on people and the environment. Increasing resource use has made it necessary to find alternatives to the most important natural textile fibre. By Marina Chahboune The mass produc- tion of cotton has serious environ- mental impacts. Chahboune