August 10, 2023 8 min read

When it comes to buying products from companies that follow sustainable practices, cotton is one of the most common types of materials that comes to mind. Whether you’re buying comfy t shirts and jeans or some brand-new bedding, choosing sustainable cotton is a smart way to purchase safe, healthy products that are eco friendly, too. This guide has some insight into what sustainable cotton is, and what makes this popular material beneficial to your health and the planet as a whole. If you’re curious about what makes this fabric sustainable, read our guide to learn more.

What is sustainable cotton?

So, what is meant by sustainable cotton? The term organic cotton refers to the methods by which the cotton crops are grown, how they are harvested, and how the finished product is produced. From planting the seeds to the final cotton production and the use of the global supply chain, every step in the process must follow stringent guidelines. But in order for cotton and other textiles to be considered sustainable, they must also be grown at a rate that optimizes production in a way that does not harm the environment including plant life, people, and wildlife.

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Let’s take a closer look at the real-world impacts of conventional cotton versus sustainable cotton farming and the cotton production process.

The impacts of cotton production

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From water usage to utilizing toxic chemicals to fertilize the soil and fight off pests, the human toll and environmental impacts of standard cotton production are felt far and wide. Here are some of the most significant impacts that cotton production has on our world, including ways that organic cotton production can help to reduce our environmental and societal footprint.


Traditional cotton requires a massive amount of water to produce. In fact, it requires approximately 20,000 liters of water to produce a single kilogram of cotton. That’s equal to just one t shirt or one garment like a pair of jeans. According to the World Wildlife Fund, cotton is one of the largest users of water resources globally. And not only does this impact the amount of water humans use for clothing, but the harmful chemicals also that most cotton farms use get into the local waterways, causing serious adverse effects on human health, fish, and wildlife that depend on these resources to survive.

Not only does more sustainable cotton use less water to grow and produce, but it also eliminates the use of dangerous pesticides, fertilizers, and volatile organic compounds that harm the ecosystem and local communities. Most water is recycled, saving the nearby water sources that people and animals depend on.


Part of what makes organic cotton sustainable is the absence of artificial pesticides. In traditional cotton farming, dangerous chemicals are used to control insects and other pests to keep them from damaging valuable crops. These synthetic pesticides and harsh chemicals are commonly used in the traditional cotton industry, which means that they’re found in everything from everyday garments to bedding products. Without using these pesticides, cotton can be grown in a healthier and safer way using natural methods. Look for organic cotton bedding and clothes that are safe and healthy to use so they’re not leeching these dangerous toxins into your skin and your sleeping environment.

The People

Another important factor in organic cotton production is the people hired to help grow, harvest, and produce it. India is the largest organic cotton producer, which accounts for approximately 75 percent of all organic cotton produced in the world. These Indian cotton farmers are paid fair wages that help them to support themselves, their families, and members of their communities. Most of these farmers are smallholder cotton farmers, which means that they generally farm less than two hectares of land. However, new strides are being made to scale up the standard for these farmers, so they have an opportunity to make more money.

One of the other benefits of sustainable cotton grown all over the world is that these workers are not exposed to chemical fertilizers and a myriad of other toxic chemicals. Farmers using all-natural, organic methods are helping to ensure that their employees are healthy and that they are reducing their environmental impact on the planet.

Energy and CO2

The traditional cotton production process requires many chemicals and quite a lot of energy to grow the plants and make the actual finished product, which means that it also releases dangerous CO2 into the atmosphere. However, sustainable cotton uses approximately 62 percent less energy to grow and produce than regular cotton. This is the result of requiring less pesticides, less irrigation, and fewer tractor operations, which can also require more energy and release more CO2. Overall, organic and sustainable cotton releases close to 46 percent less CO2 into the environment than regular cotton does.

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How Is Organic Cotton Made?

So, is sustainable cotton better? And if so, how is it made? Many farmers start by ensuring that they only use non-GMO seeds, no pesticides, and no other chemicals including artificial chemical fertilizers. This ensures that cotton doesn’t create heavy metals and other toxic byproducts that can reach the soil and water supplies. In most cases, water is recycled and reused for irrigation rather than allowing dangerous runoff to enter local waterways. There are many benefits to choosing safer, more sustainable textiles and fabrics. Whether it’s organic cotton clothing, bedding, or other cotton products, there are lots of reasons why choosing sustainable, organic textiles is a wise choice.

In a nutshell, what is sustainable cotton made of and what type of cotton is sustainable? Unlike synthetic fibers, cotton plants must be grown without any synthetic pesticides, fertilizers, and other artificial toxic chemicals. In order for these products to receive organic certification, they must follow strict guidelines and regulations as to how they’re grown. The manufacturing process must also follow specific guidelines to ensure that all farms and manufacturers are following the proper sustainability rules to ensure that they’re offering legitimate organic products to consumers.

Is organic cotton a more ethical and sustainable solution?

You might still wonder whether organic cotton is a more ethical and sustainable solution than traditional cotton. Here are several reasons why choosing products made within the sustainable cotton sector is better for your peace of mind and the planet.

Worker Protections

Choosing organic cotton ensures that more ethical production processes are used, and that includes providing better worker protections that are not just implemented, but also enforced. From the process of farming to final production, sustainable cotton farms ensure that each worker is never exposed to toxic chemicals and that they receive a fair, living wage to support themselves and their families. Growing organic cotton using sustainable methods means that it keeps workers and the local community safe. The absence of chemicals that are normally used to grow traditional cotton ensures that farms and companies are providing a safer, cleaner environment for all. This also provides an opportunity to introduce the possibility for locals to add additional cash crops to fields that farmers and workers may be able to use to help supplement their income.

Crop Rotation for Soil

Another key part of cotton sustainability is the use of crop rotation. Cotton must be rotated with other crops to be considered organic, and a three-year cycle is recommended. By rotating crops, it helps to improve soil structure via alternating short and long-rooted crops. Grains with deeper roots, like corn, can help to add more organic matter to the deep layers of the soil. Planting legumes add nitrogen content to the soil, while vegetable crops provide a higher amount of carryover nutrients when farmers add natural compost or manure. This process not only keeps the soil healthy naturally, but it also strengthens the layers of the soil to prevent erosion and runoff. Crop rotation can also help to prevent a variety of harmful pests and pathogens in a safe and natural way.


Sustainable, organic cotton must meet rigorous standards in order to receive the organic label. The Global Organic Textile Standard, or GOTS, is the world’s leading textile processing standard, particularly for organic clothing and other products. To receive GOTS certification, textiles must contain a minimum of 70 percent certified organic, natural fibers. Any dyes or other additives must meet specific toxicological and environmental criteria, and a wastewater treatment plan must be implemented for wet processing. Before something hits the market, it must contain at least 95 percent certified organic fibers to receive the GOTS label. Anything that says “made with organic” must contain at least 70 percent of certified organic fibers.

Another important certification in the sustainable textile exchange is the STANDARD 100 by OEKO-TEX. This worldwide independent testing and certification system applies to all raw, semi-finished, and finished textiles at every processing level. It also applies to accessory materials used to make a variety of products. For companies to receive the OEKO-TEX STANDARD 100 certification, each finished product must be completely free of over 100 substances that are known to be harmful to human health. Legal regulations are carefully followed, and the certification also includes chemical substances that are not legally regulated yet.

Benefits for Consumers

When you choose to purchase and use organic cotton products like clothes and bedding, there are several positive benefits to you as a consumer. Let’s dive into some of the many wonderful benefits associated with buying these better cotton products.


Not only is sustainable cotton better for the environment, but it’s also much softer to the touch than conventional cotton. Organic cotton has longer fibers that remain intact and undamaged, unlike traditional cotton which uses chemicals that damage the fibers. And since organic cotton is picked by hand rather than by machine, the fibers don’t break or weaken, making them a lot softer and more durable. Organic, sustainable cotton just feels lighter, smoother, and gentler to the touch. It’s also a bit thicker due to higher-quality fabric so it’s lightweight and breathable.

Organic Cotton is Better Quality

Not only is organic cotton healthier for you, but it’s also better quality than traditional cotton. It’s much softer, lasts longer, and it won’t pill after multiple uses or multiple cycles through the washing machine and dryer. Pills are ugly, tiny balls of fabric that can form on the surface of clothes and bedding. They’re caused by the friction that occurs whenever fabric rubs together. Because organic cotton is completely natural, these little pills don’t form, which means that you’re getting a much higher-quality product that’s easier to clean and enjoy for much longer.


If you have allergies, or you’re prone to irritation and rashes, choosing organic cotton products is much better for your health and well-being. Without all those heavy metals and chemicals, you won’t need to worry about these dangerous additives being breathed in while you sleep. Sustainable cotton is safer to use daily since there’s nothing artificial used to produce it. Say goodbye to the allergic reactions of the past and say hello to a healthier environment at home.

Better for the skin

Both organic cotton clothing and bedding are safer and better for your skin. Since harsh chemicals aren’t used to grow and produce sustainable cotton, your skin won’t be exposed to them. Exposure to these chemicals normally results in skin irritation or rashes, particularly for babies and those with sensitive skin. Up to 8,000 synthetic chemicals may be used to make non-organic cotton. Look for organic labels and certifications to ensure that you won’t have to deal with skin issues. Anything with these labels gives you peace of mind knowing that there is no trace of these chemicals in the products you and your family use.

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Final Thoughts on what is sustainable Cotton

Now that you know more about the process to grow and produce sustainable cotton, you can make a wise decision about the products you use every single day. Remember all the amazing benefits that come with choosing organic cotton products. Explore the selection of high-quality, 100 organic products available from Or & Zon, so you can start your journey toward a healthier, more sustainable lifestyle.